Every year, Jim Coffman sets up a banding station at Miller Conservation Farm to band Northern saw-whet owls. So far this year, he has banded 16 Northern saw-whets and 2 Eastern screech owls. Check out his guest article below! Thank you, Jim!

It’s 20 minutes until the last light of day, nets are up, audio caller in place. I pause to look around and briefly wonder if the netting effort will prove successful this time, this day. Working my way to the caller, I hear the soft peeps from cardinals as they fly to their roost and the subtle sounds of night begin to take over. The caller on, it begins sending the repeating whistle and chirps into the night for the Northern saw-whet owl.  

As I am making my way back to the car, not needing just yet the head light on my cap to show the way, an Eastern screech owl calls in the distance. He is joined by a second one, and they move off to the east side of Miller Conservation Farm.

Pictured: Female Northern saw-whet owl hatched this year under a blacklight. The pinkish wash shows the young feathers, allowing for banders to determine the age.

The net site is located to the back of the farm in a set of pines, whose age are well over 40 years. The under story is still

relativity open with a cover layer of needles, making for a soft, quiet walk way. If we were to catch any owls during the night, they would be taken back to the maintenance building where the banding process takes place. Banding amounts to placing a special numbered band on a leg of each owl followed by taking measurements of the wings, tail bill, and weight. Determining the age and sex of the owls is a combination of these measurements, feather molts, and a black light shown on the under side of the wings. Newer feathers show a pinkish wash under the blacklight, but older ones show less or none.

After setting up the equipment I check the time, allowing just 30 minutes between checks of the nets. Driving back and forth is typical when owls are captured, but on occasion I make the walk to the nets and back. During those walks, it allows quick looks at deer, fox, coyote, raccoons, rabbits, opossum, and cats. It pays to walk and listen for my two nemeses- the great horned, and barred owls- both of which prey on the smaller saw-whets. If either show up, closing the nets is imperative; on some nights my banding effort comes to an end.

When driving to check nets, I stop about 100 yards short of them so as not to push possible owls away from the capture area. As I approach the nets on this first check of the night, I can see a grayish form is held in the third tier down of the first net- a saw-whet. A fast check for more in the other nets, reveals none. Extracting owls from nets is a somewhat touchy, difficult task. Their talons, although small, are very sharp and some saw-whets can be very grabby. Once out of the net, each owl is put into their own cloth bag for transport and holding.

Pictured: Two Northern saw-whet owls.

Back at the maintenance building, this first owl is processed and turns out to be a female that was hatched this year (HY female). She is returned to the bag to be transported and placed on sapling limb in a thicket of bushes. From there, she’ll return to the night searching for mice.

The night effort proves good with 5 newly banded saw-whets and a recapture from the week before.

Our totals from this year have proved successful. This year (2018), we we were able to band 16 Northern saw-whets and 2 Eastern screech owls. In 2017, we only banded 4 saw-whets. In 2016, Number of owls 2016, we banded 34 saw-whets and 1 Eastern screech owl!


Bird banding is important to conservation as it teaches us more about the flight patterns, lifespan, and much more about many many different kinds of species! If you find a banded bird, we encourage you to “check it in” via the information listed on the band!

About Sarah Schott

I have enjoyed hunting, fishing, and the outdoors my entire life. My enjoyment of writing, reading, and teaching others leads me to want to share my passions of the environment. I have also found conservation to be very important and I am well aware of how important conservation choices are! Through my work with the District, I like to deliver information that is helpful, inspiring, and challenging for our readers to make even better conservation choices of all our natural resources!

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