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.
Next, education and outreach director, Heidi Ware, presented a slide show describing owl types, adaptations, habitats, and diet and hunting techniques.
Then 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.
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.
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.
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.Information 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.
Happy hunting, my Saw-whet friends!