Redditor RAVENous410 loves owls, like really, REALLY loves owls. But who can blame her, they are adorable.
She works as an owl researcher and yes, I know what you’re thinking… “Owl research? really?” But she gets to record awesome things like this:
“[6:52pm – Owl still adorable]”
Sounds like a great job, but let’s let her excitement take it from here. Read on.
Myself with one of our research subjects.
A student took this, I’ll admit. I’m going to give a bit of info on our project, since people were curious, but I’ll try to intersperse it with cute photos throughout.
Our location. It’s nothing world-famous but I really love it here, especially in fall. It’s a special place.
One of our nets. What? You can’t see it? Yes, that’s sort of the point.
Owl momentary caught in the net.
Video monitors. This way, we can go get owls as soon as they’re in the net (we usually chill up in the banding station, where it’s not 30 degrees). Even if we don’t see owls on the video, we still check the nets at least once an hour.
Getting weighed. This was one of the fluffier posteriors I encountered this year. Owls can generally be determined as male or female depending on their weight and a few other factors.
Brand new band!
“I am going to kill you as soon as I have a chance.”
The secret of silent flight: The front side of the owls primary (flight) feathers are fringed to break up the air moving over the wing, making them silent. Or nearly so.
Aging the bird using the molt pattern of the wing feathers. Sort of a bad photo.
Aging an owl using UV light. Feathers have a molecule in them called porphyrin, which reflects UV light. It breaks down in natural light over time, so pink feathers (high reflection) are new and full of porphyrin, while blue feathers (no reflection) are old. The feather patterns tell you how old the bird is (All new = bird that hatched this year).
Saw-whet owls are one of only 5 species in the world with external ear structures. That little arch is part of their skull. It helps them hear, as the ears are cocked in different directions so sounds can be pinpointed. Contrary to popular belief, owl vision isn’t that much better than ours! It’s their hearing that’s great. Edit: I suppose I should be more specific in saying that owls have a ton of rods, so they’re very light-sensitive, but they’re not color sensitive, and don’t really hunt as much using their eyes. They’re more reliant on sound. A lot of times they’re hunting things under brush which they can’t even see, so vision wouldn’t be that helpful. So I misspoke/was incorrect. Hope this helps! I’m still a youngin’ in the field, relatively speaking. Please forgive me!
After I took this, she shit on my hand.
One of my favorite photos of the year.
Madame, I really must protest.
Another favorite. I was snapchatting the picture to my brother, never got a chance to get a proper photo.
A good shot of the facial disk and whiskers.
Taken from above, not upside-down!
These are some photos I took outdoors, when the owls weren’t in hand. I’m an aspiring photographer, so I’m rather proud of these! Still have a ways to go, skill-wise.
Owl butt. Wanted to share.
Bonus photos of some short-eared owl spotting I did at the end of the season! They hunt in open fields around dusk. I took this picture through a spotting scope.
And another! 🙂
Here are some common questions about my work on owls:
Q: Is that a baby owl?
A: No! It’s a Northern Saw-whet Owl. They breed in Canada and often winter in the US, ranging widely. They eat a lot of red-backed voles, and never grow much larger than a potato. They’re good to research because there are a lot of them, they migrate fairly dependably, and they don’t try to rip your fingers off. Many other owls (including even smaller varieties!) will try very hard to do this. Saw-whets can certainly hurt (especially if they hook a talon into your cuticle, that’s the worst), but it’s nothing too serious.
Q: How do you catch them?
A: We put a speaker system out in a low pine woodland, surrounded by 4 mist nets in a square formation (see below for info on mist nets). We play a loud territorial Saw-whet call, and birds migrating nearby hear the call, come to investigate, and get trapped in the nets.
Q: Mist nets?
A: Yes! They’re nets that are about 12 ft tall and 20 ft long (they can vary depending on the net size you want, as well as how stretched out they get over time). They have four panels that each run the length of the net, with “bags” at the bottom to catch the birds. They’re very fine and hard to see, hence “Mist”.
Q: But doesn’t that hurt the owl?
A: Incredibly rarely. The birds hit the vertical part of the net, and fall into the loose “bag”, getting tangled. Due to the clever structure of the net, the bird usually is resting most of its weight on its belly or back, thus putting little stress on the wings and legs (however, owls are pretty hearty as it is. I feel that there’s more to be concerned about with songbirds, which are much more fragile). This year we had a single bird that caught its wing funny, and so my supervisor kept the bird overnight and fed him up a bit (Note: HE IS PERMITTED TO DO THIS by both the state and federal Gov’t). The bird flew off fine the next day.
Q: What do you do with them?
A: We weigh and measure them, age them, band them, and sometimes take blood or feather samples for DNA-related stuff. The band is so that, if/when the bird is recaptured somewhere else, there’s info on where else the bird has been, and its condition at that location. Pretty dang useful. After that, we let them go! We usually have a given bird for about a half an hour.
Q: Why are there pictures of the owl in a can? That seems cruel!
A: For the benefit of the owl and for us. If its head is in the can, it can’t bite or claw at us very effectively, making our work much faster and more efficient. We try to keep the owls for as short a time as possible. Also, it’s dark in the can. The bird can’t see much, and this limitation of stimuli makes the process much less stressful for the bird (AKA it can’t see giant humans doing weird stuff to them). Ever seen a hood on a hawk or falcon? Same deal, except hoods don’t really fit on the owls’ fat heads.
Q: SO CUTE! Can I have one?
A: Naw, sorry. The Migratory Bird Act protects the crap out of birds like these, and almost all other birds as well. You can’t touch them, keep them, or even pick up and save their feathers without a permit (a lot of people don’t even know that)! I was sub-permitted federally, and had my own state permit to do this work. If you ever come across an injured bird, please call a wildlife rehab center.
So what have we learned today kids? Owls are just as awesome as we always thought!
Read more: http://viralnova.com/owl-research/