Do you give a hoot about owls?
Having declared April as Adopt an Owl Month, Calvert County Parks is asking you to step up to protect the raptors, specifically the northern saw-whet owl and the barn owl.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources puts the northern saw-whet owl on its list of Highly Imperiled species in the latest state Wildlife Action Plan. Barn owls are listed as High Risk of Extinction.
The northern saw-whet has always been a rare breeder in our region. Not so the barn owl.
“The change in the barn owl’s status is more significant,” according to Gwen Brewer of DNR’s Wildlife and Heritage Service. “We compared counts from a volunteer breeding bird atlas in 1983 to counts in 2006 and saw a 72 percent decline in the numbers. It is one of the largest declines of any breeding species in our region.”
The tiny saw-whets nest in Garrett County but winter in the forests of the Eastern Shore. When the nomads pass through Chesapeake Country during their annual migration, park staff and volunteers are watching.
“We rely on banding data to tell us more about where they are coming from and heading to when they pass through Calvert County,” says Andy Brown, senior naturalist for the Calvert Division of Natural Resources.
“Studying and protecting these species can get expensive. We rely almost entirely on donations for our projects,” Brown says.
That’s where you come in.
Saw-whet adopters “can help us set nets to catch the owls and band them so we can find out more about their migration patterns,” Brown says. Volunteer and you’ll also get a unique band number to track your owl.
Ghost-faced barn owls used to be as commo as barns in Maryland. Now they’ve declined dramatically, likely, Brown says, due to loss of nesting habitat in old buildings and open grasslands for preying and to poisoning, due to increased use of rodent-killing chemicals.
Eagle Scouts and volunteers are helping to build nest boxes for the raspy-voiced owls. SMECO donates used power poles for the project. You can help by adopting a nesting box. Your donation of $50 pays for construction materials and predator guards. In return, you get a photo of your adoptee and its location plus a year-end nesting summary.
“We want to ensure that these species don’t disappear,” Brown says. “When you lose a species it lowers your biodiversity. Low diversity isn’t healthy and that will eventually impact the human species as well.”
Adopt an owl: www.calvertparks.org.