Birding Around Town - Saw-whet Owl Tracking in NWA
Ok, if Northern Saw-whet Owls aren't the cutest birds you've ever seen, then I can't imagine what would be. About the size of a large can of soup, they have to be the model for children's stuffed toys.
Saw-whets breed in the north (think Wisconsin, Minnesota, and upstate New York), but they winter....well, that's what Mitchell Pruitt is working to find out. You see, know one really knows for sure what they do in the winter. Lots of Saw-whets are captured and banded during late fall migration on their way south. But exactly how far south is south, how long they stay there, what they do after they get there, and what kind of habitat can you find them in, is still being discovered.
Mitchell's faculty advisor at the University of Arkansas, Dr. Kim Smith, had a hunch they might be around Northwest Arkansas, but no one had really studied the prospect scientifically before. When Mitchell Pruitt, a native of Jonesboro, AR, needed an undergraduate project, Dr. Smith suggested Saw-whet Owls and the rest, as they say, is history.
Mitchell is now a 2nd year graduate student studying Saw-whets in our area. His study site is located at the Ozark Natural Science Center in Huntsville, which is about 45 minutes west of Rogers. He gets to the study site about 8 P.M. and stays until at least midnight capturing owls, banding them for identification purposes, and placing radio transmitters on them. In this way, he is able to track their movements around the study site without having to capture them again. Last year, he tracked two of his owls into the month of March before they left for the north again. This year, banding will take place through November.
Mitchell welcomes visitors during the evenings when they are catching Saw-whets, but to keep disturbance to a minimum, he limits visitors to those who arrange with him in advance. If you are interested in viewing Northern Saw-whets up close, you can email me at the store and I will provide you with Mitchell's contact information.