Saw-whet Owl Banding Field Trip for Kids
On Saturday evening, I joined Debbie Beer who led a joint PA Young Birder’s Club and Delaware Dunlin’s field trip to experience Saw-whet Owl banding at the Hidden Valley Banding Station along the Kittitany Ridge of the Appalachian Mountains.
Unexpectedly, the evening’s entertainment was not just provided by owls, but also came in the form of a lively family gathering that ended in a domestic dispute! We were aware that a party had rented “The Chateau,” aka the Banding Station, and were to be finished by the time we got underway. However, the arrival of the entire county’s police and EMT force delayed their departure. Luckily, this commotion did not affect the owls or our wonderful experience!
A Great Horned Owl called a few times as we arrived, signaling a great start to the evening. Bander Jim Logan (above) and his crew set up the nets as our group of twelve gathered. Jim did an outstanding job explaining all about Saw-whet Owls – popluations, food, migatory routes, etc. He used educational materials to explain the differences between Great Horned, Screech and Saw-whet Owl structure and hunting behaviors.
At 8:30pm the banding crew completed their first net check, and returned back with one Saw-whet Owl in hand, to the great delight of the kids. We crowded around the table as Jim began processing the owl, explaining in great detail each of the steps along the way. This included weighing the bird, and measuring the wing length which, combined, help to determine the gender. He also measured the bill length; looked for the amount of fat and breast muscle on the bird; noted the eye color as compared to a Benjamin Moore paint swatch; identified the age (Hatch Year or Adult) based upon wing molt; and, of course, banded the bird by placing a numbered, aluminiun band around its right foot.
Despite a full moon which usually keeps the small owls relatively inactive, we netted a total of 3 owls over the course of the evening, the last one being caught at 11:30pm. Sporadic cloud cover may have helped in our success. All 3 owls were ‘adopted’ by individuals in our group, helping to support the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art which sponsors this long-running banding research project.
During a lull between net checks, several of us wandered outside to enjoy this mild evening. Young Jerald from Delaware, began imitating a Screech Owl call, with remarkable skill. Indeed, the real thing soon responded. The two ‘talked’ back and forth bringing the owl closer for all the group to hear. Jerald was thrilled as this was his first time that he actually got a response for his efforts. Congratulations, Jerald!
Great thanks go to Jim Logan, his wife Annette, and the crew of Brant, Keegan and Shelby. These dedicated volunteers, along with hundreds more, facilitate banding 7 days a week for 2 months straight, yielding not only valuable scientific information about this amazing species, but educating and inspiring so many people. A special thanks to Scott Weidensaul, director of the Saw-whet Owl Banding Research Project for providing this wonderful opportunity to the youth birders.
For more information about Scott’s Saw-whet Owl Banding project, click here
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