Working together to keep today's treasures for tomorrow slide image Protecting the natural heritage of this diverse estuary slide image Promoting water quality and land preservation slide image Supporting a rich ecosystem for our local economy and quality of life slide image Managing our natural resources through consensus building slide image

News and Resources

COASTAL BAYS Project Owlnet keeps a count of tiny saw-whets - November 14, 2010

“Too, too, too…” the sound of a Northern Saw-whet Owl echoes through Hungerford Woods – well, it’s a recording, set on repeat, on an iPod – used to lure the tiny owls to a mist net, which is, essentially, like a giant lunch-lady hairnet stretched between the pine trees in these woods on Assateague Island.

Saw-whet Owls are the smallest found in the region. They are roughly the size of a clenched fist and weigh less than a stick of butter. Extended, their wings – tip to tip – are about the length of a loaf of bread. They are tiny, and they are cute. Proportionately, the have huge round heads and enormous yellow eyes. Saw-whets are rusty-brown and off-white, with streaked breasts and polka-dotted backs.

Saw-whets are one of the most common owls in forested habitats across southern Canada and the northern United States; however, much remains to be learned about Saw-whet populations, distribution and movements, behavior, and breeding biology.

In an effort to increase understanding, the Northern Saw-whet Owl is now the most banded owl in the country. Over 200,000 have been banded with tiny metal anklets which include a scientific identification system. When captured for banding, recaptured, or recovered, numerous scientific measurements are recorded and shared.

Twenty years ago, bird watchers did not consider this little gem to be very regular in Maryland. In the 20 years since research began on Assateague, over 1,500 Saw-whets have been banded. Fourteen owls were banded last week.

Dave Brinker is the Central Regional Ecologist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. He spends a lot of time outside studying the health of Maryland’s ecosystems and the plants and animals that live here. So, what does he do in his free time? He spends a lot of time outside studying the health of Maryland’s ecosystems and the plants and animals that live here.

Brinker founded “Project Owlnet”, a non-profit organization devoted to the conservation of Saw-whet Owls that encourages, facilitates, and coordinates migration monitoring and communication between a network of Saw-whet Owl banding stations across North America.

Brinker runs the banding station on Assateague Island, but he can’t do it alone. Tami Pearl, Biological Science Technician with the National Parks Service at Assateague, and Megan Wikander, Research Biologist with International Wildlife in Easton, Maryland are two, of many, who volunteer to assist Dave with his efforts assessing Saw-whet populations on Assateague Island.

According to Brinker, “Assateague is a good spot because the boundary between the Atlantic Ocean and the continental U.S. collects owls that bump into it and do not want to fly out over the ocean. Assateague is also very good wintering habitat for Saw-whets.  Many, but by no means all, of the owls that we band on Assateague each autumn spend the winter there.”

Recently, when reflecting about upcoming travel for work and pleasure, a colleague, Patrick O’Callaghan, Executive Director of Conservation Enterprises Unlimited, commented “if you can’t distinguish between work and pleasure, then you have a great job.”

For those of us fortunate enough to have a career that incorporates our passion, including Dave Brinker, the lines between work and pleasure are blurred. We are passionate about what we do – and sometimes, we get paid for it.

If you’re interested in finding out more about scientific research conducted in the Maryland Coastal Bays watershed, please contact us at mcbp@mdcoastalbays.org.

Carrie Samis is the Education Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

 

Click here for more information

Archived News

More Archived News
View Current News

U.S EPA News Region 3

Coastal Bays Program
Coastal Bays Program
Coastal Bays Program
Coastal Bays Program
Coastal Bays Program
Coastal Bays Program
Coastal Bays Program
Coastal Bays Program
Coastal Bays Program
Coastal Bays Program