Biologists Capture, Document Elusive Northern Saw-whet Owls in Arkansas

Kimberly Smith and Mitchell Pruitt captured and documented for the first time two Northern Saw-whet Owls wintering in the Ozarks.

Kim Smith

Kim Smith

The elusive and small birds are rarely found this far south, with only a dozen sightings reported in the state over the last 55 years. The researchers used recordings of the saw-whet owl call and fine-gauge nylon mist nests to capture the birds before banding them and releasing them back into the wild.

During winter, northern saw-whets are usually silent and difficult to locate, so little is known about their winter distribution. However, recent successes at banding stations in Missouri and Alabama caused Smith and Pruitt to suspect the birds might also migrate to Arkansas. The researchers banded the birds to track their migratory pattern, which will help biologists determine where the birds are wintering.

Mitchell Pruitt

Mitchell Pruitt

“An interesting thing about saw-whets is some of them migrate south every year, even when there’s plenty of food up north,” said Pruitt, who will use the experience and research for his honors thesis. “This year food must have been abundant because capture rates have been down across the country. But some birds have trickled through.”

Two weeks after the initial capture, Smith and Pruitt captured another adult female at the Ozark Natural Science Center.

“The fact that we were able to capture two birds in the same place within two weeks of each other is really incredible, given that this owl has only been seen in Arkansas about a dozen times in the last 55 years,” Smith said. “Even more unbelievable is that we have had three owls respond to our tape recording at the science center, suggesting that this owl might be much more common in Arkansas than previously thought.”

 

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