Posted | filed under Weekly Reports.

We have finished our second week of owl migration monitoring at the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory. There are two species that we target here. The first is the Northern Saw-Whet Owl, one of the smallest owls in Canada (second only to the Northern Pygmy-Owl) and our most frequent flier. Since the program began in 2004, we have banded 2,186 Northern Saw-Whet Owls. Our second target species is the slightly larger Boreal Owl, a more recent addition to the owl monitoring program in 2016 with a total of fifteen individuals banded.

The first night of banding was heralded by six Northern Saw-Whet Owls, including a previously banded owl from last year, who is now going into her third year. Since then, we have seen a trickle of Saw-whets to bring our two-week total to twenty-two newly banded individuals. Meanwhile, two of our Northern Saw-Whets banded late last September have been recaptured this September at the Beaverhill Bird Observatory down by Edmonton.

Above: This Northern Saw-whet Owl was banded last September before returning to our nets on September 3, 2023. Who knows what adventures she’s had in the last year?

Recaptures are always exciting, as they provide valuable information about an individual and summarily the species. It used to be assumed that Northern Saw-Whets were scarce and year-round residents of their breeding grounds. Through efforts like ours here in Slave Lake, it is evident that while some individuals may remain in one place, others may move a short distance south, and still more migrate further. For example, one owl banded here in 2018 was found two and a half years later in California.

Unlike our songbird migration monitoring program which is entirely passive, audio lures are used to draw in owls to our nets. Nearly every night, beginning an hour after sunset, speakers play the Northern Saw-Whet’s rhythmic too-too-too song and the Boreal Owl’s winnowing toots.

Though not target species, there are chances of other owl species being captured. Barred Owls are big and may prey on smaller owls. These big owls are the reason we release our recently banded owls by perching them in the safety of spruce boughs while their eyes readjust to the night. Though our nets are in dense forest where it is difficult for such a large bird to fly, five Barred Owls have been captured and banded. There has also been one Long-eared Owl banded back in the very first year of the program. Lastly, Great Horned Owls have been heard hooting nearby, though none so far have been caught.

If you are interested in the chance to see an owl and to learn more about them, consider joining us for our Family Owl Nights in October, on Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th at 7:30 PM. Space is limited. For more information and to register, contact the Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation at or (780) 849-8240.

By Bronwyn Robinson, LSLBO Assistant Bander