March 31, 2015
ASHLAND - Wisconsin owls are making noise.
These secretive nocturnal creatures are among the earliest nesting bird species in the state and can now be heard statewide - making early spring a great time for people to listen for owl calls and to consider volunteering to join a roadside survey to track their populations.
"This is prime owl time," says Rich Staffen, a conservation biologist with the Department of Natural Resources.
Owls are the marquee species this month as DNR's Natural Heritage Conservation program launches a new monthly web feature shining a spotlight on the tremendous diversity of birds in Wisconsin. Web users will find slide shows, videos and fast facts sharing ways people can enjoy listening and watching for birds, learning more about them, and taking steps to help birds remain a beloved part of Wisconsin.
There are 19 owl species in North America and six regularly nest in Wisconsin. Two others, the barn owl and the great gray owl, are rare breeders in the state. Another three - snowy owls, boreal owls and northern hawk owls - are occasional winter visitors.
"Right now, we have some great horned owl chicks starting to hatch, barred owls are talking to each other with the males and females dueting, N. saw-whets are starting to call more often and move north, and screech owls are on territories in upland forests and urban areas," says Ryan Brady, a DNR researcher who coordinates bird monitoring for the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative (WBCI).
Snowy owls, which all winter long have been enticing birders to brave the cold to search for these Arctic visitors, are still hanging around Wisconsin. Earlier this month, a second Wisconsin bird was captured near Reedsville and outfitted with a tracking device to study its movements. Follow Project SNOWstorm and the whereabouts of these birds.
Brady is now recruiting citizens to join WBCI and Minnesota's Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in carrying out a roadside survey to assess the status, distribution, trends, and habitat associations of owl populations in the region.
"Owl enthusiasts of any skill level are welcome," says Brady. All volunteers to the Western Great Lakes Owl Survey get online training and must pass a brief certification test to ensure accurate data collection.
Volunteer surveyors are asked to conduct two roadside surveys of an assigned route after dark, the first between April 1 and 15, and the second between April 25 and May 10. Volunteers drive their route, which contains 10 stations each one mile long. They record all owls detected during a five-minute listening period at each station. The entire survey is typically completed in about two hours.
Routes are assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis; interested volunteers can view an interactive map and sign up on the survey's web page for one or more of the 90 survey routes statewide.
"For anyone who loves owls, this is a great opportunity to participate in a large-scale, long-term survey that provides important information to help assure the sound management and conservation of owls throughout the western Great Lakes," Brady says.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: For owls, Rich Staffen, 608-266-4340; Sumner Matteson, 608-266-1571; for the owl survey, Ryan Brady, 715-685-2933