Montana Owl Workshop Apr 23—28, 2015

Posted by Denver Holt


Denver Holt

Denver Holt is a wildlife researcher and graduate of the University of Montana. He is founder and president of the Owl Research Institute, a nonprofit organization located ...

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VENT’s 2015 Montana Owls Workshop was another fun trip. We saw 6 species of owls, including Great Horned, Northern Pygmy, Boreal, Northern Saw-whet, Long-eared, and Short-eared. We had terrific looks at all species.

On our first morning out, ORI (Owl Research Institute) researchers guided us to a female Northern Pygmy Owl peering from her tiny two-inch circular nest cavity entrance. She was very obliging for about 5 minutes and then retired back into the cavity, presumably to incubate eggs.

After searching for and inspecting about 100 woodpecker holes, we were awed to see a female Northern Saw-whet Owl peer from her nest cavity. This was very timely, as the group had almost given up hope after an entire day of searching without success. How quickly everyone forgot about their exhaustion and previous disappointment when the female peered from her cavity. At our high elevation nest box study we found 3 Boreal Owl females, each peering from their nest box holes. In fact, we had five Boreal Owl nests at this study site in 2015. This was a lifer for several participants.

Great Horned Owls were relatively abundant. We observed them along roadsides and farm yards, and located a few nests. In fact, we visited one nest where the ORI has a live camera (24/7) and had outstanding looks at adults and 3 large chicks.

Short-eared Owls were observed conducting a variety of behaviors, ranging from hunting low over grasslands, or engaged in territorial skirmishes with neighboring Short-eared Owls. We also had some great looks at aerial courtship displays, also known as ski-dancing.

Our group was able to observe ORI researchers as they captured and banded Long-eared Owls. We also had fine looks at a Long-eared Owl female on a nest and were able to observe researchers band and take measurement data on the male.

Unfortunately, we missed Great Gray Owl. We found the nest; however, no owls were around, and egg shell fragments were lying on the ground below. We suspected a predation event. Our Barn Owls also disappeared, and we are unsure of their fate.

It’s always difficult finding owls; however, our group was resilient and worked hard. It paid off, as we eventually had very satisfying looks at several species of this elusive group of birds.