29-30 November 2000

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Northern Saw-whet Owl, Aegolius acadicus

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Northern Saw-Whet Owl Banded

Hilton Pond Center is part of a national network of research stations monitoring migrational patterns of the Northern Saw-whet Owl, Aegolius acadicus, a tiny nocturnal bird that breeds primarily in southern Canada, the western U.S., the eastern U.S. north of Kentucky and Virginia, and down the central Appalachians. During winter, they range somewhat further south, but no one really knows how far.

Northern Saw-whet Owl, Aegolius acadicusBy playing a continuous-loop tape of the monotonous "toot-toot" saw-whet call from dusk to dawn, it is possible to lure this species for capture in mist nets. Last year, seven saw-whets were captured after dark at Hilton Pond Center, the first two on 28 November 1999 and the last one on 8 December. This nearly doubled the total number of saw-whets (four) that had ever been banded in South Carolina.

In 2000, night-netting commenced on 31 October--a month earlier than last year--to try to determine when the earliest migrant saw-whets might arrive. Despite 11 nights of running nets in early and mid-November, no saw-whets were captured-- not until 30 November, that is--one year and one day after the first Hilton Pond owls were caught!

The 10:45 pm check on 30 November revealed a small, robin-sized bird in one of the nets--a featherball that was unmistakably a Northern Saw-whet Owl (see photos above). The bird was removed from the net and taken to the banding lab, where weight and wing measurements indicated it was a female. (Males are smaller.) An examination of the wing feathers showed that some were freshly molted but most were old (below)-- a good sign that the bird probably hatched in 1999, or perhaps before. After a band was placed on its fully furred leg (bottom photo), the owl was placed on a deck railing from which it soon departed, flying silently into the night and a world of darkness about which science needs to know more.

Northern Saw-whet Owl, Aegolius acadicus, wing

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Was it just an amazing coincidence that this owl was captured practically on the first anniversary of the birds from 1999, or do saw-whets always arrive here in South Carolina's Piedmont at the very end of November? We can't say for certain, but the only way to get a handle on this kind of question is to net for Northern Saw-whet Owls again in the fall of 2001-- guaranteeing us yet another season of sleepless nights to look forward to at Hilton Pond Center!

Northern Saw-whet Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Aegolius acadicus, foot

Details about Northern Saw-whet Owl Research at
Hilton Pond Center

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center


The following species were banded this week:

Yellow-rumped Warbler--1
American Goldfinch--1
White-throated Sparrow--4
Hermit Thrush--1
Eastern (Rufous-sided) Towhee--1
American Robin--1
Northern Saw-whet Owl--1

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the

7 species
10 individuals

80 species
2,024 individuals
GRAND TOTAL (since June 1982)
122 species
38,174 individuals

Northen Cardinal
White-throated Sparrows

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this Web site--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.