Something to hoot about: Owl Banding in Lackawanna County

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NORTH ABINGTON TOWNSHIP, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — More than 400 types of birds have been documented throughout the state of Pennsylvania. Every night there are hundreds, if not thousands, of owls migrating through the night sky while everyone is sleeping.

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is Pennsylvania’s smallest owl and folks in Lackawanna State Park banded them early Thursday morning.

Dr. Rob Smith, a Biology Professor at the University of Scranton explains what banding an owl means.

“Our goal is just to borrow them for a couple of minutes, take some measurements on them, and then turn them loose,” Dr. Smith said.

The months of owl migration are during October and November.

“We are learning something new about these great little guys,” said Mary Bogert, Graduate student, and Biology professor.

A team of devoted volunteers from Bloomsburg University, Keystone College, and the University of Scranton devote four nights a week to research and track a species that is rarely seen by humans.

“There are absolutely a lot of owls in Pennsylvania. We do have a couple of different species aside from the Northern Saw-whet Owl but they are difficult to study because they are nocturnal,” Bogert said.

This type of research is called bird banding.

“Putting an aluminum band that has an individual number on it, on a bird, on its leg. And different species of birds are different sizes,” said Dr. Smith.

Before a wild owl is banded, it first needs to be caught. This is accomplished by super fine mesh mist nets delicately positioned between poles and audio lures of owl calls.

Once an owl is enticed to investigate, it gets trapped in the net. After being removed, it is then taken to the base camp.

Beth Smith, a member and volunteer of the Owl Banding Project Development and Coordination Team, explains what banding stations do to the owl.

“All of the banding stations that are using the Project Owlnet protocol take the same measurements on the bird each time,” said Beth.

With the average weight and size of a Northern Saw-whet owl being no more than a stick of butter, the band on their legs is quite small.

“Even though they are small, they do have large talons that can pierce through your skin,” said Bogert. “When they fly, they have specialized feathers that allow them to be very quiet.”

Just about every inch of the owl is recorded in the ten minutes of observation before it is released back into the wild.

“Researchers can tap into that data set and ask questions about things,” Dr. Smith said.

“This owl we actually caught last week in our mist nets and we banded it, and we just recaptured her this evening. And that is a first for us,” Bogert said. “It actually has nothing to do with my thesis, but it is very exciting.”

Something just as exciting was by the end of the night, the team safely caught, banded, and released ten individual owls back into the woods so many of them can continue their migration across North America.

For more information on visiting the banding location, email Dr. Rob Smith at Robert.smith@scranton.edu and Mary Bogert at mb67134@huskies.bloomu.edu or visit the Lackawanna State Park Facebook page.

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