All County, All the Time Since 2010 MAKE THIS YOUR PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY HOME...PAGE!  Friday, April 19th, 2024

Northern Saw-whet Owls return to the County

Every fall the south shore of Prince Edward County welcomes hundreds of Northern Saw-whet Owls on their way to warmer hunting areas in the United States.
Northern Saw-whet Owls are strictly nocturnal, with hunting activity usually at late dusk to dawn.  Their name comes from the “skiew” contact call it makes which resembles the sound of the whetting of a saw.

Taking advantage of the nocturnal habits of the owls, banders at Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory lure the owls into mist nets with a recording of the owls’ “tooting” call.

The public is invited to see the owls being banded, take photographs, and ask questions on Friday, Oct. 12 and Saturday, Oct. 13 from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. (Visit for exact times and more on the owls. Cancelled if raining).

Banders wear head lamps as they walk around the mist nets extracting the owls and placing them into cloth bags before returning to the lab where the banding takes place. This year, there are guest banders from Israel and Great Britain joining station manager and Master Bander David Okines.

Visitors are always welcome at the Bird Observatory, but Okines suggests visiting for an hour or two in the early night (8-10pm) to see these owls. He notes they should be most active around the middle of the month when the moon is at its darkest.

The Bird Observatory volunteers will have a small shelter up with bird friendly Nicaraguan coffee for sale by the cup and bag and hot chocolate for the children.

Of course, for their safety, Peptbo never catches or bands birds in inclement weather, so should this be a rainy evening there will be no activity.

Those who wish to support the year-round activities of the Peptbo, should note the annual fundraising dinner set for Oct. 20 at The Waring House. Naturalist Ron Tozer, author of Birds of Algonquin Park, will be the guest speaker. There will also be a silent auction. Tickets $65 by calling 613 476 7492 x2652.

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  1. Bob Hilscher says:

    Hi there. Just reading your great posting regarding the Northern Saw-Whet Owl. I and my wife have spent much time in Prince Edward County(lovely), and had know idea that so many Northern Saw-Whet Owls moved through that area. We live in Toronto, and this past Friday, we came upon an adult Saw-Whet Owl out in the bush. This was the first time as birders that we had ever seen a Saw-Whet Owl. Fortunately, we had our camera with us and got some good pictures and video. We have posted them for anyone interested at:

  2. Sarah Moran says:

    I recently started volunteering at Prince Edward Point . I was very impressed by how knowledgable and how committed to bird safety the staff are. They have many ways to identify birds that might be vulnerable and go to great lengths to minimize risks. Just to be really sure, I decided to seek out the data to build on what I was seeing. I was fortunate that a recent study, completed in 2011 had been published. It was a large scale study, which gathered data from 620,997 birds across the US and Canada; it reported a mortality rate of 0.23% and an injury rate of 0.59%. More detailed analysis from 345,752 of the birds has revealed more information to help banders avoid conditions that might lead to a bird’s injury or death so the likelihood is that the rates reported above will drop. It is indeed very rare to see a bird’s injury or death, although not unknown. I would recommend that anyone who is interested follow up on Cheryl’s suggestion and visit. It is fascinating to be so close to the remarkable life of birds.

  3. ….and I can support what Cheryl Anderson has said. I banded saw-whet owls at Prince Edward Point for several years during the early 1980s. During that period, I can recall no time when any saw-whet owl brought to me was injured, and there were certainly no deaths, and we caught no other birds except owls. The owls were released from the nets in a timely manner, brought to us for processing and released quickly.

  4. David Norman says:

    @wevil… your comment brings up a very interesting point! While my intent here is not to disparage Cheryl’s assurances, I do know from experience as a keeper at the Metro Toronto Zoo, back in 1979-80, where I frequently participated in bird capture and banding in the Rouge Valley, that occasionally there was bird injury and subsequent death. This happens regardless of how skilled or experienced the researchers/volunteers, even with the greatest care and training. This activity which is deemed necessary to collect morphometric data for conservation and management, like it seems any other human endeavor in relation to the rest of life on earth, is not without its contradictions… this is the “rub of the green”. I can’t help but make comparison to the pro-wind notion that bird fatalities due to Industrial Wind Turbines is an unfortunate aspect of our need to mitigate climate change and their justification by comparison to the significant number of bird deaths from other human induced causes such as pet cats, buildings and cars. I was thinking about the nature of these comparisons in recent weeks when I made the decision to trap/kill some rats who had taken a liking to the organic seed I provide for some rescued chickens, in a coop I had built for them. I say “rescued” chickens because I do not eat meat and nor would I offer them up for this purpose. While the coop has protection from access by large predators such as skunks, racoons and coyotes, the rats seem to be able to enter from very small holes they create. This was a very difficult decision for me and I know that this action will now be a permanent source of dissonance and circumspection. It was particularly poignant and disturbing when I disposed of the rat’s dead bodies. From my perspective the choices we make in this regard are weighted on pragmatic variables and possible outcomes… however, there is no redemption for the resulting injuries and death.

  5. Cheryl Anderson says:

    Wevil: Let me assure you that no other birds get caught in the owl nets – other than owls. The nets are set after dark. Perching birds usually do not feed or fly around the forest in the dark. They do migrate above the tree height in the dark; however, but not through the forest where the nets are set. PEPtBO also uses nets for passerines ( perching birds). In our operation injury to birds from the nets is very rare. We have excellently trained volunteers that take the birds out of the nets in a very short time from when they are caught. Our Bander-in-charge is internationally known and trains people all over the world to identify and band birds. Please come to the bird observatory and identify yourself. I will make sure that you are given a complete tour and all the information you need to assure yourself that our operation does not kill birds. we are open every morning( Mid April – end May and mid August – end of October) for passerines and every evening in October for Owls. Cheryl Anderson, President, PEPtBO

  6. wevil says:

    while netting the owls for banding how is it that noone mentions the other birds that get trapped in the nets and have to be killed because of their injuries

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