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Northern Saw-whet Owl Banding Experience

Published October 24, 2014
Tags: General Observations, Northern Saw-whet Owl, bird banding, keel, Jamestown Audubon Society

My friend, Gale, informed me of an event that the Jamestown Audubon Society was holding, a Saw-whet Banding demonstration.  It sounded like a very neat opportunity to see how a licensed bander handles, measures, and bands the super cute, little owls. We both signed-up for the event and, along with about a dozen others, we headed down to Frewsburg (near the southern end of Jamestown) to the bander's home.

After we had all squeezed into the bander's work area, Tom Leblanc, a licensed bander, gave us some first-hand knowledge about the process of banding.  He had already caught one of these cute, doll-like owls and deftly began the process of taking its measurements as he explained why this particular, little owl was a female. He could tell she was a little bigger than a male, as female owls are. The owl was pretty complacent, not struggling at all, and calmly blinked and looked around as Tom measured wing length, bill length, and feather moult that helps age the bird. We all got to feel the keel (a flat, thin bone that protrudes at right angles from the chest wall) that indicates if the bird has more or less body fat to give a feel for how well it's been eating.

Of the four birds caught in the mist nets that night, two were male and two were female. Only one seemed a little less well fed than the others, one was a little less tolerant of being put into a can (head first!) to get weighed, and one took off immediately after release, rather than hanging around the way the other three did.  There were differences between them all and all had their own personality.  I wanted to bring them all home with me and was so thrilled to have gotten the chance to even hold one!  What a privilege!

A big thank you to Tom and his wife for letting us troop into their home and to the Jamestown Audubon Society for arranging this wonderful evening!

NOTE:  someone commented on one of the images that I uploaded to my Flickr page that they were disappointed I used flash in photographing an owl. While that is true, please know that I used the lowest setting on the flash along with a diffuser, a plastic globe-like object that sits over the output beam of the flash, causing the light to have to travel through it.  Because the diffuser is only slightly translucent, it softens and, because of its rounded shape, it spreads out the beam of light - thus preventing the owl from having problems seeing for the few minutes following the banding process and photos. And since the owls that were photographed sat around after their release, even if the light had given them any vision interruption, their eyes absolutely had more than enough time to adjust before flying off to continue their night of hunting. In post processing, I also brightened the outdoor images to make them easier to see.
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Tom Leblanc, licensed bander, shows why this band is NOT the right size for the little Saw-whet!
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Taking measurements
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Showing the new vs older feathers to ascertain the age of the bird
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Showing wing length
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Feeling the keel, which gives a feel for how well the bird is hunting and eating
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All done!
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Another Northern Saw-whet Owl
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Northern Saw-whet Owl
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Northern Saw-whet Owl
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Tom even let me hold one!
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The next few are photos of when the birds were released - three hung around while one, fiesty female took off immediately
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Release shot
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Release shot
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Release shot
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Release shot
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And off she goes!
Reply from: tim on 11/8/2014 2:42 PM
 must have been a great experience!