A silent nocturnal army of feathered killers is once again drifting into our woodlands. Albeit, impossibly cute little killers that invariably inspire all sorts of overly anthropomorphic comments. Words like "cute", "adorable", and "charming" are bound to be heard anytime people are fortunate enough to get up close and personal with a Northern Saw-whet Owl.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. You'd say none of those things if you were a White-footed Mouse that just got snagged by one of these predators.
Tim Tolford, who is an active bander in southwest Ohio and adjacent Indiana, sent along some absolutely incredible photos of owls that he has captured. You can read all about his operation here.
It's shaping up to be a good saw-whet migration. Tim has already caught over a half-dozen, I believe, and Kelly Williams-Sieg and her crew are in the double digits down by Chillicothe.
Few people know that these tiny owls are prowling about, even though they are far more common than we once thought. The work of banders such as Tim and Kelly have demonstrated that Northern Saw-whet Owls may be the most abundant predatorial bird in the boreal forests, and stage enormous southward movements in late fall.
Although some people are quick to disparage banding as hard on birds and yielding little in the way of returns for the effort expended, that is certainly not true with saw-whet owls. Had the organized effort known as Project Owlnet not been started, we'd have no idea of the true population level of saw-whets, nor the extent of their migrations. Not that long ago, if more than ten saw-whets were reported in a season in Ohio, it was considered exceptional. Now, we've had falls were over 100 of them have been caught and banded in just two or three locales. Who woulda thunk?
Not only does saw-whet banding contribute to our scientific knowledge of this species, it provides an entree to pique people's interest in nature. Tim, Kelly, and most others who band owls are wonderful about allowing visitors to come and observe. And they do. I'm sure that between Tim and Kelly's operations, many hundreds of people, many of whom never would have suspected something like a Northern Saw-whet Owl existed, have gotten to see one up close and personal. For kids, especially, this is likely to be a real watershed moment, and something not soon forgotten. This can only be a good thing.
The media has also become interested in the owls, and there have been numerous newspaper and magazine articles published on saw-whet owl work here in Ohio. All of those pieces have undoubtedly reached several hundred thousand people.