By Judy Kramer (Submitted November 19, 2010 at the Benton Country Enterprise)
On the cold, moonlit night of November 13, a beautiful, petite Saw-whet owl was gently pried from a mesh net, after being lured from his perch in a nearby grove of cedar trees in South Benton County. He clicked his beak, but was otherwise calm while biologists from the Missouri River Bird Observatory (MRBO) measured, weighed and banded him. After data was recorded, the owl was released, unharmed, to continue his nocturnal hunting. A total of nine Saw-whet owls were trapped that night, between the hours of 6:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., a surprise to the biologists who said that these owls have long been thought to live only in Canada and more northern states. These scientists believe that these seven to eight-inch owls may actually migrate as far south as Alabama.
“We really don’t believe anyone else is banding Saw-whet Owls here in Missouri right now, and very little is known about their migration routes or wintering areas south of the Great Lakes,” said Dana Ripper, Administrator of the MRBO. “So it’s really exciting that we banded so many here in Benton County!”
Dana Ripper and her Assistant Administrator, Ethan Duke, performed this bird-banding exercise in a non-residential area near the home of Jo and Jack Spicer in Edwards. Jo Spicer is a Hi Lonesome Prairie Master Naturalist who found out about the MRBO during Oktoberfest/Prairie Day in Cole Camp. She wanted to learn how to recognize the types of birds at her feeders as well as on the prairie when she is working on conservation projects. She also wanted to know which birds returned to her home every year. Other Master Naturalists, MRBO interns and friends took part in the banding exercise that also included trapping birds for two hours earlier that afternoon. The earlier banding was performed on 14 birds representing seven species, including Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers, American Gold Finches and Ruby Crowned Kinglets. Birds waiting their turn to be studied were kept in regulation cloth bags and handled with great care by experienced and trained bird-handlers. The “daytime” birds were not as tame as the owls, making considerable noise, and often pecking their handlers’ hands.
The Missouri River Bird Observatory was incorporated this summer, but Dana Ripper and Ethan Duke have been working with birds for ten years. MRBO is certified by the Federal Government and the State of Missouri and is allowed to band and study birds within a 75-mile radius of Marshall, MO. The organization currently operates banding stations in the spring (April to June) and in the fall (August to early October.) These operations take place at the Grand Pass Conservation Area where mainly migratory habits of passerines and shorebirds are studied. Last spring, bird-banding operations resulted in 1,156 new captures and 20 birds recaptured from the previous year. This represented 72 species, including 15 species not previously listed on the Conservation Area Checklist maintained by the Audubon Society of Missouri.
The MRBO is funded through grants from federal, state and non-government entities. Its administrator spends evenings sifting through potential grant paperwork in an effort to find enough funding to support the continuation of its projects. It is a non-profit
Organization dedicated to contributing to the conservation of Missouri’s migratory and resident birds through scientific research and monitoring, community outreach and education. Groups of elementary students visit the conservation area to take part in bird banding, and data from all bird banding throughout the year is sent to the national bird-banding laboratory in Maryland and to the Missouri Dept. of Conservation. Its bird tracking helps scientists nationwide detect birds’ responses to climate change.
“Over the last 50 years, some bird-banding stations have seen birds arriving and departing later,” said MRBO Assistant Administrator Ethan Duke.
During the winter months, MRBO works on back-yard banding projects like the one on November 13 in Edwards. Families or individuals interested in bird watching can request a free banding visit where birds will be trapped and color-banded at feeders. Persons wishing to help gather important scientific data on birds’ life span and return rates will report on re-sightings once per week. These visits can be arranged by calling Dana or Ethan at 660-886-8788, or by e-mailing them at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are trying to get more people familiar with birds, and to reach people who don’t presently care about birds,” said Ms. Ripper. “This outreach program helps the life span of the birds.”
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