By Isabelle Martel
Thirty NAIT students got a rare opportunity to help with the owl-banding process at the Beaverhill Bird Observatory. Students were able to handle the beautiful birds while learning about the migration routes, survivorship, and populations of Saw-Whet owls in Alberta.
“I would highly recommend it to anyone who is either an avid birder or just interested in nature, the staff are so knowledgeable and friendly, and it’s incredible to see these birds in the wild up close,” said Kelly Musgrove, second-year student and president of the biological sciences club.
Owl-banding is a process where a small piece of metal or plastic with an individual number is placed on the wing or leg of the owl for identification.
“Even if you are just looking for a place close to the city to wander around the woods, I would definitely recommend it,” said Musgrove.
The BBO (Beaverhill Bird Observatory) runs education programs focusing on bird conservation, diversity and research. Their educational programs usually run from April to November, but the Beaverhill Natural Area is open year-round for anyone to explore.
“We learned a ton about the banding process and the information they gather,” said Musgrove.
“We also learned about the changes they are making to their Saw-Whet program to try and attract males to challenge the previous notion that only females and juveniles migrate.”
Northern Saw-Whet owls are a small owl species that are native to North America.
“By starting to play the female call they are looking to see if that is actually the case or if for decades the banding community has biased their own data by only previously playing the male calls,” said Musgrove.
During the experience, students also learned how to properly handle the owl, as well as estimate the age and sex of the bird.
“Getting to have one of them launch off my arm on release was amazing!”