Project Owlnet

A Continent-wide Effort to Track Northern Saw-whet Owls

Since 2013, the National Aviary has operated the first Project Owlnet banding station in western Pennsylvania, one of very few banding stations located near a major urban center. Each spring and fall, National Aviary Ornithologist Bob Mulvihill operates a banding station at Sewickley Heights Borough Park, in partnership with the Borough Park and Fern Hollow Nature Center naturalist April Clause. Volunteer community scientists assist Mulvihill in banding and tracking the movements of Northern Saw-whet Owls.

The Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) is one of the most common owls found in the forests of southern Canada and the northern United States, but information about this diminutive owl species is sparse. These birds, among the smallest owls in the north, are nocturnal and tend to migrate in irregular patterns, making them difficult to study.

Researchers with Project Owlnet study the movements of the species to understand the timing, pace, and intensity of their migration. Licensed banders delicately catch the birds, which are drawn to a net by a call, band them, and release them. Bands with unique identifying numbers are placed on the owl’s legs so that researchers in other areas of the continent can track their movements if and when the owl is re-caught.

Since the start of Project Owlnet in Pittsburgh, Mulvihill and his team of community scientists have learned a great deal about these secretive birds. Learn more about Project Owlnet’s findings.

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