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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Saw-whet Winter?

Saw-whet Owls are the coolest bird!  They regularly breed at Black River Lake, and on occasion a male camps out over the winter, showing up at my bird feeder in a blinding storm to hunt for mice.  Folks around the lake hear them calling on territory from early April through July and even in the fall, but a nest has never been found.  Considering their small size and the number of bigger owls like Barred Owl and Great-horned Owl around them, it is a wonder they dare toot at all.

Current banding data suggest that the females migrate to New England with young of the year, leaving the males behind to await their return in April.  Life can be tough for Saw-whets when the snows become hard crusted, making access to small mammals on which they depend for food, impossible.  Starvation is a cruel reality for many species that are limited by the amount, or quality of winter snows.

Saw-whets have shown up at my place in three winters, generally camping out around the feeder, over a space of two to three weeks, regularly appearing each night.  The bird in the photos above arrived on January 30th, 2009 and stayed around my property for over a month.  It would allow me to get within 3-4 feet of it, over time becoming very tame, eventually paying no attention to me at all, with an unceasing intensive stare, scanning the ground below for the slightest movement.  It caught small mammals on two different occasions, but I did not intrude with the camera, simply because I knew how hungry the little bird was.  I spend a good bit of time outdoors in the night around my property and it is my nocturnal behaviour in the woods that has allowed me to meet and observe this incredible bird so many times.  Maybe the next storm I will go for a night walk....

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