Jackets on. Headlamps on. We trudge up the steep hill behind Tom‘s (new!) house to the nets. From a small speaker comes a sound like a child playing the same high-pitched note over and over on a cheap recorder: Hoot hoot hoot hoot hoot hoot hoot hoot…
No owls at the first net check at 6:30 p.m. We return to the house for chit-chat and a tour. By 7:15 p.m., Patty is home from work with groceries, but not ready to accompany us for the second net check. Tom teases that this is a good thing, because they never get birds when Patty tags along.
Back up the hill and this time, I notice the brillance of the stars in the black sky. This time – 2 little puffballs are caught in the nets. Tom deftly removes them and places each in his own separate carrying bag and we head back down the hill.
Tom let’s me handle the first bird and I am thrilled. Wing measurements and weight are taken first and compared to a chart. Males are smaller and lighter than females. This one definitely falls in the male range. A leg gauge helps me determine the right size band. Next, a tail measurement, and a check for fat and muscle condition. Finally, we use a blacklight to look at the feathers on the under side of the wing. New feathers appear pink under this special light, older feathers look “normal”. The combination of pink and normal tells us that this is not a hatch year bird; he has more experience than that.
And now it’s picture time!
The second owl is feistier. When I try to handle him, he grabs on tight with sharp talons. He does not break the skin, but I fear he will leave a bruise. He finally releases his tight grip. Tom offers to band him. Thank you, Tom. This one is a hatch year male.
I wonder if he will mellow with age? Or are owls, like people, born with personalities that stay with them for life, merely intensifying with life experiences?
The third net check brought us nothing. I decide to head home. The moon is bouncing on the top of the distant hill – a huge orange sliver.
Learn more about the Northern Saw-Whet Owl at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website –> click here.
Read more about Tom’s owl studies at his blog –> click here.