Fall has returned to western Montana! You can tell by the changing color of the leaves, the cooler temperatures, and yes, the start of our annual owl migration banding project. This is our 7th autumn at our banding station on the outskirts of Missoula and 9th season overall.
Northern Saw-whet Owls are well known to be highly migratory, and as with many species of owls, numbers fluctuate widely from year to year and place to place. Whether this species is an irruptive migrant responding to changing prey densities, similar to Snowy or Short-eared Owls is currently unknown. Nonetheless, large scale migrations are known to occur from time to time.
To date we’ve banded over 1,200 Northern Saw-whet Owls during migration. Most captures (around 80%) are birds in their first year of life; however, a few individuals can be aged up to 3 years old or greater. Recaptures of our previously banded individuals are rare, but offer glimpses of movement patterns over time. Saw-whets banded in Missoula have been recaptured in California, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia. We’ve also recaptured a few birds from banding stations in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Stay tuned for an invitation to come join us for a community night at the migration station and Happy Fall!