Pittsburgh residents invited to observe, up-close, migrating Northern Saw-whet Owls as part of scientific study


October 6, 2014 (Pittsburgh, PA) – On more than 15 nights from early October through November, local residents can join National Aviary ornithologist Bob Mulvihill at Sewickley Heights Borough Park for Project Owlnet—a unique opportunity to get an up-close look at one of Pennsylvania’s smallest and least-understood owls: the Northern Saw-whet Owl.

Project Owlnet is a cooperative banding project, coordinated throughout North America to determine the timing, intensity and pace of migration of the Northern Saw-whet Owl, which was a little known species until this project began in the mid-1990s.

Until last year, we knew very little about the occurrence of these owls in the Pittsburgh region, or anywhere south of the Great Lakes and west of the Laurel Highlands region.

Then, last fall, Mulvihill established the first Project Owlnet banding station in southwestern Pennsylvania at Sewickley Heights Borough Park, with help from park naturalist, April Claus.  Mulvihill, along with many interested citizens and a few dedicated volunteers spent some twenty nights there last fall.  They caught and banded eleven Saw-whets, in the process discovering that Pittsburgh is, in fact, on the migratory pathway of the little owl featured on many Pennsylvania car license plates.  They even recaptured one Saw-whet that had been banded just three weeks earlier at another Project Owlnet site about 150 miles due north, near Long Point, Ontario.

To harmlessly capture the owls, a few banding mist nets are set up in suitable habitat, and an audio lure of the owl’s own call is played to attract any migrating owls closer to the nets.  Several of these tiny owls can be harmlessly caught in a single night; then a numbered band is placed on their legs before release.

Pittsburgh Project Owlnet resumed on Saturday night, October 4 at Sewickley Heights Borough Park.  Following a very successful nesting season, scientists are predicting an even heavier fall flight of Northern Saw-whet Owls this year than last.  The public is welcome to come and observe any of the planned owl banding sessions.  Those interested in attending should send an email to robert.mulvihill@aviary.org and ask to be added to the owl banding mailing list.  Interested residents can also get up-to-date information at www.aviary.org/Project-Owlnet, on the National Aviary’s Facebook page, or on Twitter @BobMulvihill.

Weather is a factor, so if rain or high winds are in the forecast, there will be no banding.  If you are planning to come to a session, then dress appropriately (we are outdoors the whole time), bring a flashlight or headlamp, snacks and a thermos of coffee if you want, and plan to arrive any time after 6:30 and before midnight.

Media Contact:

Robin Weber
Director of Marketing & Communications
National Aviary


 Group watches Northern Saw-whet Owl being banded, and poses for a photo