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We arrived at the top of Lucky Peak, elevation 5,904 feet, around 7 pm on a beautiful October night. The sun was soon to sink below the distant Owyhee range.  The Intermountain Bird Observatory was hosting a field trip as part of the public outreach and education aspect of their research program. Owl banding was tonight’s agenda.

Before it got too dark, executive director, Greg Kaltenecker led a tour of the grounds and explained the importance of the Boise Ridge to migrant bird populations, which I summarized in a previous post. This was a great opportunity to gawp at the 365 degree magic hour view.

To the north, cell towers mark Bogus Basin Ski Area.

To the north, cell towers mark Bogus Basin Ski Area.


Looking toward Boise and the distant Owyhee range.

Next, education and outreach director, Heidi Ware, presented a slide show describing owl types, adaptations, habitats, and diet and hunting techniques.

Getting ready for a slide show in the woods.

Getting ready for a slide show in the woods.

DSC_0721Then it was time to check the nets scattered about the mountain top. Net runs continue each half hour from sunset to sunrise every night during the owl migration period, which lasts from September through October.


With infinite patience the hairnet-fine fibers of the nets are gently untangled from the owl feathers.

The owls go through a process of identifying and recording their species, sex, size, weight, body fat, and overall condition. Then they are fitted with their own uniquely numbered leg band.


A researcher blows on the owls feathers to assess the layer of body fat beneath.

DSC_0735DSC_0732A  symphony of uuuus, ahhhhs, coos, and oh, you’re so sweets is the sound track of the evening. Even the young men get carried away by the thrill of interacting with these magical creatures.

Researchers are excited to share their knowledge with a spellbound audience.

Researchers share their knowledge with a spellbound audience.


Assessing the owl wing feathers

The leading edge of primary wing feathers have minutely fringed flutings. This adaptation allows air to pass silently over the wing, providing owls a remarkably stealthy approach to their prey.


Northern Saw-whet Owl

The last bit of excitement is a bittersweet release. The owls sit calmly, till they’ve regathered their senses and their eyes have readjusted to the dark. Then they burst into the night sky in a flurry of feathers and freedom.DSC_0743Information gleaned from these studies contributes to a growing body of knowledge about breeding and wintering habits and long-term changes in populations. It is how we sort truth from myth about what owls need to survive in a rapidly changing environment.

Boise, Idaho; Oct 10, 2014

Boise, Idaho; Oct 10, 2014

Happy hunting, my Saw-whet friends!