owltalk 2000


12 April, 2000


On the 22nd of March, 1998, I watched a male boreal owl on a horizontal flight down an old, abandoned road. He flew with purpose, his wings set. As the road opened to spruce and pine, he stopped. Caught in the fine filaments of my net. I rushed to extract him. A beautiful bird, fat and healthy.


I had followed his activities for three weeks. He was a consistent singer in an otherwise quiet landscape; always excited, always eager for a response to his song. His routine had become familiar: vocalizing softly as he left the black spruce at nightfall, then turning up the volume from his favored singing perch atop an 80-year old red pine. A female had visited, but while curious, she was noncommittal. Such is the fickle nature of owls.


After measuring, weighing, and aging him, I placed a USFWS band on his leg and opened the palm of my hand. He remained motionless for a moment, then stood on feathered feet, flapped his wings, and was off in silent flight. Before my nets were down, he sang from his red pine.

One year later, I trapped a male at the same location. I could not leave Minnesota until I did. The owl's behaviors and resources-used were familiar. He sang from the same tree and entertained females at the same cavity as the male from the previous year. When I extracted him from the net, his leg was unadorned; mine were the first hands he had felt. I kept an evenness in my thoughts: never too high, never too low. A thousand-hours of hypothermic observation and fruitful and frustrating trapping attempts has taught me that.


It was in these same forest stands at the corner of the boreal forest that I have learned all that I know about the boreal owl. The owls have been there during periods of feast and periods of famine; an enigmatic species to the observer until sound and sight is correlated with a behavior and its response.


On March 4th, 2000, a male boreal sang in these now familiar stands surrounding the now familiar aspen. He sang from the same singing perch and courted from the same cavity as the males who had previously called this patch of forest their home. That a new male had set up shop entered my mind, but coincidence is sometimes replaced by certainty. I knew this was my boy.


On April 9th, 2000, I watched as a male boreal owl left his cavity and took an arching, downward flight towards the red pines. Then, he stopped. I rushed to the net, and gently extracted him. I felt his leg. He wore an ankle bracelet that I had placed on his leg nearly two years earlier, on March 22nd, 1998. I shouted to the night. He was still a beautiful bird-still fat and healthy.


W.H. Lane