Night owls needed

By August 4th, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Comment

If you want to see and hear Great Horned owls in action, try taking a quiet walk on a moonlit summer evening with no wind or rain. (Photo: Mianus River Gorge Preserve)

If you want to see and hear Great Horned owls in action, try taking a quiet walk on a moonlit summer evening with no wind or rain. (Photo: Mianus River Gorge Preserve)

Scientists all over the northeast want to know more about where native owls live and roam. By keeping mice and other small rodents in check, owls perform a critical function in suburban ecosystems. But researchers don’t yet understand why owls survive well in some suburban areas and not in others. So, all you citizen scientists living in Massachusetts, New York, and Maine, your owl-spotting and listening skills are needed!

How do you know if there are owls around? One great way is to listen for them. The Massachusetts Audubon Owls Project needs volunteers year-round to report when they notice native owls, from Great Horned to Barred to Eastern Screech. The Mass Audubon website lets you listen to sample calls and includes pictures of the various species so that you can determine which kind of bird you encountered. Once you spot an owl, use the website’s electronic Owl Reporter form to record your observations.

(Here’s the call of a Barred owl.  If you listen closely, it sounds a bit like: “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”) Barred owl call

Meanwhile, researchers on another project, “Who’s Whoo-ing” in your backyard?, figure that citizen scientists can increase their odds of hearing an owl by giving a shout – in “owl-ese” that is. Volunteers living near the Mianus River Gorge Preserve in Bedford, New York, are needed year-round to call to Screech and Barred owls in their backyards. You won’t need a perfect owl-accent – simply download calls from the website and play the sounds on a boombox in your yard. Scientists hope that any owls of the same species living in the vicinity will call back, and this information can help establish population and migration information.

Finally, researchers at the Maine Owl Monitoring Program are listening for summer nightbirds (whip-poor-wills and common nighthawks) as well as owls. Because these scientists want to make sure their data are consistent, their owl-documentation program is the most detailed, including routes for volunteers to follow, and specific time and weather requirements for conducting listening surveys. Though the summer listening windows just closed for this year, the project will need volunteers in the fall and winter. If you would like to get on board and go for a night-time listen, sign up at Maine Audubon.

Your help on these projects will assist owl researchers in determining “whooos” out there!

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