Banding a Great Gray Owl

After 2+ days of winds gusting to 50 mph, this morning dawned clear and calm. When I made a trip up to my “owling grounds” I was pleased to meet up with the federally registered bird banders from Hawk Ridge. The banders also were in search of Great Gray Owls, and shortly after sunrise we spied an owl. It was fascinating and educational to watch the Gray Gray Owl be banded. The two individuals doing the banding were extremely considerate of the bird, and after taking basic measurements they cloaked the owl such that it was calm throughout the rest of the banding process.

I was appreciative of the time the banders took to help educate me about some of the information they look to learn from banding this bird (and others):

  • Isotope residues in the feathers allows the owl’s summer territory / birth place to be identified. Stable isotopes that were integrated into the feather as it grew in can be analyzed to determine the general area of the world that has a similar isotope ratio. Learn more about isotope research involving saw-whet owls.
  • Mercury residue is also found in feather samples taken from the owls. The feathers are sent in to federal labs for analysis. Obviously minimizing the amount of mercury in our environment is critical, and knowing the levels in any banded bird is useful information. Learn more about Great Gray Owl research via Audubon.
  • The color or shininess of feathers helps age of bird. The bird we banded was a thin, but not emaciated first year female.
  • Finally … the band itself. Assuming the bird is at some point recaptured or found dead, researchers can better understand migrations.

I had wondered whether the owls I have been seeing this winter were relatively local birds which had moved to areas with easier hunting (i.e. less snow), or from north of the border and thus more of a migrant. Eventually we will know that answer as this was just one of several owls banded.

Here are a few images from this morning …

Great Gray Owl Just after being Captured

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Measuring and Inspecting Feathers

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Release!

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