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Getting intimate – saw-whet owls in Nebraska

Wayne Mollhoff is a well-known figure in Nebraska birding and ornithology circles.  He authored The Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas (2001) and just wrapped up coordinating the state’s second breeding bird atlas.  He has also done something quite innovative in order to improve our understanding of one difficult-to-detect bird species, the Northern Saw-whet Owl, breeding status in the state.  This small species of owl has been known to occur in pine forests of western Nebraska during spring and summer for some time, but what was lacking was direct evidence of nesting.  Northern Saw-whet Owls are nocturnal and are usually detected by their call at night.   Trying to find one of these birds during the day is a needle in a haystack type of endeavor.   What Wayne did to improve the odds of finding nesting birds was to place nest boxes in the correct habitat.  He then came back and checked them.  Eventually, he documented the species nesting in the state.

Wayne also place a trailcam near one of his nest boxes and captured a neat, albeit quick, intimate moment between a pair of Northern Saw-whet Owls.   The video is below:

So what is going on here?  The following is the explanation provided by Wayne:

Filmed at my nestbox at Wildcat Hills Wildlife Management Area, south of Gering, Scotts Bluff Co, on 19 April 2015. It shows the male making a food delivery of a small mammal of some kind to the brooding female. According to Scott Rashid, of Boulder Colorado, author of Small Mountain Owls, as the male approaches the nest, it calls softly. The incubating / brooding female answers its call, and appears at the cavity entrance. The male hits the box without actually landing, delivers the food and re-launches immediately.

Again, this is is a species we did not know a whole a lot about just a few years ago.  Now, we get to see some intimate details of saw-whet owls’ lives.  Cool stuff.

Good birding!

Nongame Bird Program

About Joel Jorgensen

Joel Jorgensen is a Nebraska native and he has been interested in birds just about as long as he has been breathing. He has been NGPC’s Nongame Bird Program Manager for eight years and he works on a array of monitoring, research, regulatory and conservation issues. Nongame birds are the 400 or so species that are not hunted and include the Whooping Crane, Least Tern, Piping Plover, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon. When not working, he enjoys birding.

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