Montana Owl Workshop Apr 20—25, 2017

Posted by Denver Holt

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Denver Holt

Denver Holt is a wildlife researcher and graduate of the University of Montana. He is founder and president of the Owl Research Institute and the Ninepipes Wildlife Researc...

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The winter of 2016/2017 was particularly harsh in the northwestern U.S. Here in western Montana, it was near historic. Brutal cold and lots of snow gripped us for much of early and mid-winter. In fact, snow was present on the ground the entire winter—which is rare for us. Spring wasn’t much different, as low temperatures and near continuous rain lasted through April.

As a result of this winter, many species of wildlife had a difficult time—including owls. We had great difficulty finding owls this winter and spring. Our best guesses are that many migrated out of the area due to deep snow, cold weather, and an inability to find food. For those that chose to stay, it must have been rough, as we found many dead bodies of Barn, Great Horned, Long-eared, and Short-eared owls.

And, during our spring nest checks we did not find any nests of Saw-whet or Boreal owls. In fact, there was so much snow on the ground that our April nest checks could not be conducted. Yet despite this winter, some owls did manage to survive and begin breeding.

On tour we found several Great Horned Owl nests, but only one Long-eared Owl nest. One Northern Pygmy-Owl pair provided us with great views of the male and female at the nest site. We also had one of the best Short-eared Owl courtship flight displays in many years. Apparently voles did well under the snow, and after the spring melt a good number of Short-eared Owls arrived late—as did a few Long-eared Owls. 

Although we desperately searched for Barn, Boreal, and Saw-whet owls, none were found. However, we were able to locate one Great Gray Owl nest. Our group was quite impressed as we watched the female on the nest. We also found the male roosting nearby and were able to get very good looks at him. 

Even though all of the participants have departed, we continue to look for owls—hoping that a late season is not too much to wish for.