The 2017 Montana Migration Project is winding down for the season, as the Northern Saw-Whet Owls finalize their migration out of Montana into warmer areas. Last night's post (10/24/2017) yielded four captured owls, bringing this years total to 154. Since the project's launch in 2010, over 1,300 have been captured and banded.
The Northern Saw-Whet Owls are captured in mist nets, then banded, weighed, measured, and assessed for other metrics such as sex, age, and general health. Weather factors such as temperature, wind, and moon cycle are also recorded and entered into the project data base.
Researcher Matt Larson heads up the project and spends many cold nights, and early mornings, banding the captured owls in a remarkably efficient manner. We made him slow his process down a bit last night, so I could take photos, but generally he completes the banding, and other research steps, in a matter of minutes.
It has been a fruitful year for this project. Strong numbers, and a high percentage of young birds, tell us that it was a strong breeding year for Northern Saw-Whet Owls, most likely the result of high small mammal populations in the breeding area.
Last year, the Montana Migration Project had a slow season. Although fellow banders in Canada and Idaho reported strong numbers during the 2016 Saw-whet Owl migration, Montana was relatively low, capturing about 85 Northern Saw-whet Owls. One individual, who was captured and banded in Missoula in late September 2016, found its way to Lucky Peak Bird Observatory outside of Boise, ID and was recaptured there in the first week of October. Recaptures and encounters like this are rare. Individually, these records are interesting, but over time a collection of these data can help us understand the patterns and movements of Northern Saw-whet Owls and perhaps identify important habitats. We plan to continue refining our methods in determining if Western Montana is a migration flyway for owls.