How to Find Owls: A Crash Course in Montana

How to Find Owls: A Crash Course in Montana

An amateur birder learns how to locate owls, using scientific techniques. 

By Brenda Timm
Published: 05/02/2012

Look at the base of trees for white staining. Do a closer inspection at these same trees for owl pellets, which are lumps of hair, bone, and sediment regurgitated by owls. Owl species: all

4. Drag a rope

This is a commonly used research technique to flush secretive grassland birds like short eared-owls and find their nests. Two people drag a long rope (or chain) along the ground. Owls will flush when individuals are within 15 feet and can carefully inspect the area the bird was in for a nest. Owl species: short-eared

5. Knock and scrape trees

Some species of owls nest in snags or abandoned woodpecker holes. Find a large stick and tap the tree five times, then immediately scrape the tree five times in succession. Certain owls, including the northern saw-whet, will peer out right away. Other cavity-nesting owls like northern pygmy and screech owls will not look out and require the "Use a Camera" technique. Owl species: northern saw-whet and boreal owls 

6. Use mist nests

Owls can be flushed into specially designed nets or a person can use calls to attract an owl into a net. This technique is commonly used in research and migration studies. Owl species: all

7. Observe fence posts and tree stumps

Unlike other birds of prey that prefer to perch high, some owls prefer to perch low on fence posts or on tree stumps. Look in the early morning and early evening, when owls are apt to be hunting. Owl species: great gray and short-eared owls

8. Check nest boxes during breeding season

If a researcher knows where a nest box is located, she can employ the same knock-and-scrape technique described above on the tree the nest box is attached to. Owl species: boreal and northern saw-whet owls

9. Use a camera

An extended videocamera, like the Sandpiper Technologies Peeper, allows researchers to observe bird activities in high, hard-to-reach places. Owl species: northern pygmy, boreal, western screech, and eastern screech owls

10. Read about owls

The more you can think like an owl, the better your chances of looking in the right place at the right time. Owl species: all

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Brenda Timm

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

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