Old News Archive

Maine Audubon Seeks Volunteers to Monitor Owls

March 12, 2007 - TRC

FALMOUTH - Maine Audubon seeks volunteers around the state to conduct early morning owl surveys for the Maine Owl Monitoring Project. Volunteers are needed on routes in Gorham, Limerick, Raymond, Freeport, Pownal, Boothbay, Livermore, Mount Vernon, Farmington, Mercer, Sidney, Jefferson, Camden, Waldo, Franklin, Deblois, Eustis and near Chamberlain Lake northwest of Baxter State Park.

All "citizen scientist" volunteers receive a CD and written training material to learn the nine owl species they may hear during the surveys, which begin at 1 a.m. and end at 5 a.m.

Each volunteer is assigned an established road route and on any night between now and April 15 will conduct a 13-minute survey at each of 10 points along the route.

The volunteers play a CD for the duration of the survey. The first three minutes is silent, allowing volunteers to "passively" listen for calling owls. The CD then plays calls of three owls (long-eared, barred and great horned), with silent periods between each call during which volunteers note any responses.

Citizen scientists then log information about the survey-including weather conditions, temperature and owls heard-on a data sheet they send to project coordinator Susan Gallo at Maine Audubon.

"It's an amazing feeling to be out in the dark and hear owls respond to the calls you play," said Gallo. "It raises the hair on the back of your neck and can bring tears to your eyes, it's so powerful."

That feeling likely explains the surprising number of volunteers who return to the project every year: more than 135 volunteers conducted surveys in 2006 and most are back for 2007.

There are several changes to the surveys this year, including playing the call of the uncommon long-eared owl instead of the more common northern saw-whet owl so that biologists can learn where long-eared owls
live. "Habitat models show the owl should be widely distributed across the state, but we suspect that's not the case," said Gallo.

Long-eared owls are listed as a species of special concern in the state as well as throughout the region. Following Maine Audubon's successful model, other states around New England will be starting surveys this season in order to get more information on long-eared owls and other species of concern.

"We hope this effort to coordinate bird monitoring on a regional scale will put Maine's owl data into a larger context," said Gallo.

Data from the surveys are giving scientists at Maine Audubon and its project partner, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, an idea of how many owls live in the state, which is not an easy calculation because the birds are nocturnal and breed in the winter.

The organizations hope long-term data from the project will reveal if owl populations are declining, as anecdotal evidence suggests, and if large die-offs, which occur every few years, affect statewide

Maine is the first U.S. state to organize such a project, though long-term owl monitoring efforts have been underway in Canada for several years. Maine's owl project also has become a model for states in
the Midwest that are starting their own owl survey routes.

If you are interested participating, please contact Susan Gallo at (207) 781-2330, ext. 216, or sgallo@maineaudubon.org.

MAINE AUDUBON works to conserve Maine's wildlife and wildlife habitat by engaging people of all ages in education, conservation and action.

Maine Audubon maintains some of the most productive, science-based conservation and research programs in the region. Initiatives such as the Maine Loon Project, the Maine Cooperative Owl Surveys and ongoing programs to monitor and protect the endangered piping plover and least tern are made possible through partnerships with volunteers, public
agencies, universities, and other conservation organizations.

Submitted by Marie Malin, Maine Audubon Society

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.