Monday, November 21, 2011

Owls Banded at Powell Gardens

One of North America's smallest and most secretive (and cutest!) owls: the Northern Saw-whet Owl were banded at Powell Gardens last week. We invited staff from the Missouri River Bird Observatory to come sample appropriate habitat near the Byron Shutz Nature Trail where we thought the owls might reside. 2 owls were caught: one male near 9 p.m. and one female at 11:30 p.m.

Dana Ripper, Director of the Missouri River Bird Observatory (MRBO), shows off the male Northern Saw-whet Owl netted at Powell Gardens. Across North America, a network of researchers is monitoring the autumn migration of this tiny owl. Northern Saw-whet Owls were thought to be quite rare in our area but the MRBO is proving that we have more owls in central Missouri than previously known. Learn more at and visit the MRBO website at

Here Dana relays information about the bird to Ethan Duke, Assistant Director of the Missouri River Bird Observatory. Each of the two owls caught were measured and weighed, checked for health, banded and released very near where they were caught. Based on the information gathered the first bird was a male and the second a female (you can't tell by their plumage). Both birds were more than a year old.

Dana holds out their relatively large wings to see their molt patterns. This bird weighed less than 3 ounces and can fly away with a mouse more than one third its weight.

Only professionals with proper permits may net and band these and all protected species of birds. Myself and a handful of Missouri Master Naturalists accompanied Dana and Ethan to the banding here at Powell Gardens. If you ever come across a banded bird (owl or any bird!) please report it to I wondered what the story was with each of the Saw-whets caught here at Powell: where did you come from? From the high elevations of the Rocky Mountains? From the great northern forests of Canada? From Northern Minnesota? Were they planning to stay here for the winter or fly farther south? If only they could speak. The banders' research is helping us to understand the lives of secretive birds and put in place an understanding of what their conservation needs are now and for future generations.

Meet Dana and Ethan from the MRBO at Powell Gardens on Sunday, February 5th for banding birds around the Powell Gardens Visitor Center. It will be a chance for our visitors to get up close and personal to wild birds. Watch for specific details soon.

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