Friday, October 7, 2016


Yes, year 12! October 5 kicked off our informal banding season to determine early owl arrival. In 2.5 hours we had a mix of weather, clear and cool, with gusts of wind, then quiet. We also had a mix of netted critters; a Western Screech Owl, Northern Flying Squirrel and our first of the season Northern Saw-whet Owl, a male!

Young N. Flying Squirrel. Photo by Julie Woodruff
The flying squirrel was probably just about 3 months old based on size, but very mobile and active. Squirrels bite readily and hard, so caution to the human hand, and holding the loose-skinned flyer (see picture below), takes focus. We released her in the oak she was likely "flying" to, and she scurried away.
Web photo of gliding N. flying Squirrel

First NSWO, a petite but might male. Photo by Ken Sobon
Our first of the year saw-whet was a boy! In all years, our male capture is very low, likely because they stay on breeding territory if winter conditions are fair. But this youngster was hatched only this year, so must have left his natal site (unless he was hatched near the Reserve!). Thank you volunteers Ken Sobon, Julie Newman and Julie Shaw for the fun opening night!

Monday, February 29, 2016


Such a fortune to have found this Northern Saw-whet Owl roosting in dense vegetation along the Potter's Ravine trail in Oroville in February. Since assisting Julie with her telemetry study, I have gained a good search image and perspective of where to look for these owls wintering here. From my banding study we know that in fall many NSWO migrate through higher elevations and winter in foothill and valley habitats. With telemetry during the day we found them roosting on the ground, in shrubs, and 80' in the canopy of a tree. But almost always surrounded by dense vegetation during the day, which makes them extremely hard for us, and predators, to see. But, if you don't use telemetry there is still another way to find them. Songbirds dislike this formidable owl predator (even though NSWO primarily feed on rodents), and will make a real ruckus, often bringing in all of their friends, a mob of birds-in-the-hood.  It was only a pair of oak titmouse that alerted me, but I was on the search. Look what I found-you might have to click on the pic and zoom in.

In the center of this photo is a saw-whet peering out of the toyon
Here is a zoomed in view of the roosting saw-whet owl. 
What we also know from banding is that the birds begin to migrate to their breeding grounds in March through April.  From there, we don't know where they go, but I suspect they are moving north and/or upslope to the Sierra Nevada/Cascade ranges.
See more about our wintering study on this blog, an example is here:


Our snow goose festival outing was a huge success with two Northern Saw-whet Owls captured in mist-nets. One bird had previously been banded by our team in October 2015 during fall migration, an indication that the bird was wintering on the Reserve property, and had so far survived the hardships of winter. All good news for this individual.
Happy Snow Goose Festival participants gather around
a saw-whet owl.
Our trip is always a quick sellout every year because many people have never seen these beautiful, common but cryptic owls.  Our team this year was me, Steve King, Sheila Frisk and Ken Sobon. Thanks team!

Saturday, January 16, 2016


With our arrival back to OWL3 this year, we banded 15 nights during fall migration. Even with the reduced banding effort our capture rate was high and we banded 55 Northern Saw-whet Owls, and 3 new Western Screech Owls. Almost 50% of our birds were hatched this summer season, meaning a good nesting and fledgling success for owls. See our annual report- with fun pictures for our successful and productive year. As we say goodbye to our fall season, I end our 2015 postings with this youtube video+ of a sweet saw-whet, just before release. See you in 2016!

Saw-whet owl, caught in a blink

Friday, November 20, 2015


Are you looking for a conservation-oriented Christmas gift that supports local science? Consider becoming and adoptive guardian of the Northern saw-whet owl (NSWO). One that was banded, measured and released at the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve (BCCER). Our fall study is now in its 10th year of long-term migration monitoring. Did you know this adorable predator may be wintering in your backyard shrubs, gobbling up rodents? Our project also educates the community about the elusive saw-whet and contributes to local and national conservation programs. We are a project of Chico's Altacal Audubon Society and the national Project Owlnet.

Two saw-whet owls banded and released. Photo by
Steve King, santa hats photo-shopped by Raina King.
TOOT TOOT TOOT!!! (That is saw-whet for Merry Christmas)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Rainbow, which turned into a double, and glowing grasses to the east
toward the foothills and the BCCER.
But it was well worth the drive from Oroville to Chico to see the most amazing skies with focused rain cells, rainbows, and glowing grasses to the east opposite clouds, 
Intense rain cell toward the foothills
a setting sun and clearing skies to the west

It is these breaks in the weather that we look for when we set up nets. For the safety of owls, we do not set up nets in the rain (or high winds). It looked good,but the clearing was short over the Reserve, and we closed for the season.  It has been a wonderful fall for owl migration with a total of 55 NSWO, a bunch of new banders, the most valuable veteran banders, and a great new relationship with the Reserve.
Stay tuned for the final report, and thank you for your interest...toot, toot, toot!!!
Holiday Owls, photographed and photo-shopped
by Steve and Raina King

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Have you ever come across a frenzy of bird activity like multiple species of small birds flitting and diving around a bush or small tree? Chances are, there is a feathered (or scaled or furred) predator in there-go take a peek! This activity is called mobbing and it is used to distract, harass, annoy enough to get predator out of the area. And if you are a bird, it's important to call in your friends as there is safety in numbers.
Looking for an owl, we found one roosting in the coffeeberry shrub!
During a Christmas Bird Count at the Butte Creek Ecological Reserve I heard lots of angry contact calls and there, diving in and out of a mazanita shrub were Anna's hummingbird, hermit thrush, spotted towhee, oregon junco, oak titmouse, golden and ruby-crowned kinglets and yellow-rumped warblers.  I knew there was something unwanted in that shrub, walked over and gently pulled back a branch. There, sitting on a mouse, was a tiny saw-whet, trying to avoid the mobbing crowd.
Here is one of our past radio-telemetered owls, roosting in the dense
branches of a toyon shrub at the BCCER. Photo by Julie Shaw
Another petite hunter, the Northern Pygmy Owl is renowned for being mobbed. Active during the day and seeking out songbirds, this tiny predator has eyespots in the back of its head, which is meant to dissuade mobbers from mobbing. This great video shows the pygmy and eyespots perfectly.