Project Owlnet

Migration banding for Northern Saw-whet Owls

Project Owlnet is a coordinated, cooperative banding project to determine the timing, intensity and pace of migration of the Northern Saw-whet Owl, a species whose migration was little known until this project began in the mid-1990s.  A few banding mist nets (12 m long nets made of fine nylon mesh which harmlessly captures flying birds) 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 dozen of these tiny owls can be caught in a single night at some locations in the mountains of Pennsylvania and along the Lake Erie shore.  

Until the National Aviary’s ornithologist, Bob Mulvihill, initiated Pittsburgh Project Owlnet in fall 2013, we knew almost nothing about the occurrence of these owls in the Pittsburgh region, which is well outside the classic ridgetop, Great Lakes shores, and coastal areas where they are well known to concentrate during migration.  In just a few seasons of monitoring, we have already learned that they do migrate through an urban landscape like that found around Pittsburgh, both in spring and fall, and (based on recaptures of birds banded elsewhere) that they travel here from as far away as western Canada!