Did you miss last week’s owl live chat with Denver Holt? We’ve got you covered! Below is the full video as well as the transcribed version! A big thank you to Cathy Seymour for transcribing the live chat!
Denver Holt Live Chat 6/23/17 transcribed by Cathy Seymour
Good afternoon from Charlo Montana, I am Denver Holt with the Owl Research Institute, and on the other side of me here who will be feeding me the questions is Brooklyn Hunt our seventeen year old student intern, and hopefully this will all go smooth. So I guess whenever you want to start asking questions , Brooklyn will read them to me.
Q1: How far will the great gray owlets disperse and what was learned with the cams that was new or unexpected?
DH: How far will they disperse. I can’t tell you that, at least right now they are still hanging in the general neighborhood. I suppose that once the season comes to an end and they are not dependent on the adults that they will disperse to new areas and how far will they go, I don’t know, it’s really hard to say. Even with the telemetry studies the sample sizes are rather small to say anything with confidence. But they will definitely eventually venture out on their own, look for new territories and who knows, hopefully somewhere within the region where we can find them. What was the other part of that question?
Q2: What was learned with the cams that was new or unexpected?
DH: You know what I think that was so cool was just the behavior at the nest. I’m particularly interested in the female’s behavior, and these vocalizations that she gives when she’s tending to the chicks, so that’s kinda neat. You can also look at foraging rates, you know, how often does the male come in, time’s that the males come in, how often does the female take a break. So all this stuff is recorded on the camera and a person could go back and pull that out and then quantify it. It’s pretty interesting stuff, the cameras are a need in that respect especially during the breeding season here. Then of course, with the infrared, we can watch them at night and see how much more is going on at night. And even sleep, you know, I guess you don’t really know when they sleeping, unless you make some assumptions based on looking at the eyes closing and that, but how often do these female owls sleep so we learned quite a bit about the behavior at the nest, particularly of the female and the chicks.
Q3: What educational opportunities, are available at the Owl Research Institute. Anything similar to courses offered at the Yellowstone Institute?
DH: You know, not so much like Yellowstone, we don’t do a lot of courses like that. We teach an owl workshop a couple times a year in the spring where we bring people in and teach them how to locate owls, and we try to find a diversity of species, up to I think eight species is the most we’ve gotten before, so it’s very specialized like that but it’s not real diverse in the educational component as something like those at Yellowstone Institute. We have a lot of volunteers, in particular, we get student volunteers from the University of Montana, occasionally we get interns from out of state but it’s usually around here because we can test people, they can test us and see if it’s works out.
Q4: At the time banding was done on the GGO’s, I saw some chatter that testing had also been done to determine gender, but no formal announcement. Can you confirm or put this to rest, and if confirmed, what were the results?
DH: Yea we didn’t determine the sex of any of the young owls, of course we knew the male and female based on their behaviors etc, but as far as the young owls go, it’s being determined but it’s not done now so maybe we will know the results here in the future but we don’t know as of today.
Q5: Were number of viewers what you expected, does landowner watch great gray owl Cam?
DH: I don’t even know what the number of viewers were, so if it’s anything like last year with all the cameras which went over really well and we think is great, and the great gray’s got a lot of attention. I don’t know about all the owl nests in the world, but maybe it’s the only great gray nest that’s live 24/7 with the infrared or one of the very few so there’s a lot going on with the great grays. Did the Landowner’s watch the cam, yea they were very excited about it and everybody over on the property was very excited about the great grays. They’ve known they nested there in the past, but now to be able to watch them was a thrill for everyone.
Q6: What is the largest food the great gray owl will take? Does food available play a role in the eggs laid?
DH: The largest that they will take you know It’s hard to say, there’s always exceptions, but from time to time they probably take birds the size of grouse and maybe mammals the size of hares, snowshoe hares etc. And what role does food play, that’s an important thing, you know the great gray owls here, we had a very severe winter and yet those owls in our sight, the ones you watched, were able to bring off four chicks, up to a point here and I will tell you about that. So that’s a indication of a good amount of food, maybe a really good hunting area and also perhaps the experience of the adults. But food is the major player in all of this.So four chicks is a lot, i think i have heard of five before, but four is an indication of a lot of food and good parenting.
Q7: I think we saw a hawk arrive on the GHO nest one day. Do you think the nest belonged to the hawk? Will the hawk use it again after the GHO moves out?
DH: Yea, seeing the hawk at the great horned nest. That doesn’t surprise me that the Red-Tails have come back and inspected. They did build the nest and the Red-Tails were on the nest just prior to launching the camera and we thought oh we are gonna have a Red Tail Hawk nest this year and then I went away for a couple of days and came back. When I left the Red-Tail was on the nest, when I came back Great Horned was on the nest. But it is a Red-Tail nest and they went a little bit to the east and reconstructed another nest over there.
Q8: Do great grays owls also hijack other bird’s nest and if so will they use it next year?
DH: Hijack, I’m not sure hijack is the word, but surely they would use because most owls species do not build nests so if there were other nests built by let’s say a red tail hawk or in the forest where the great grays are sometimes it’s raven nests and they will use those, but they use them early enough in the season and before the hawks do, that maybe they are not usurping a bird already on the nest. Now the snag we are watching this year, that’s something that is really a great gray owl type of nest and so it’s a good indication we believe that they will use that again next year. This is the third year in a row they
have used this nest and now we have a permanent camera on it and hopefully, e will see the birds again next year and maybe we will start to see something a little earlier. When they come back and check the nest out, do they prep it beforehand, are they starting to hang around so we’ll learn quite a bit more with this live camera.
Q9: Do you know if the pair of GHO’s we watch this season a pair we have watched in prior years? If yes, which year(s)?
DH: It’s always hard to say if they are the exact same individuals if they are not banded or marked in some way like color banding or tagging marker on the shoulder, but it is the same area and let’s see two years ago we watched great horns nest there about 50yds from this nest except that they nested in a nest that was 10ft off the ground and this nest is 60 something feet off the ground.
Q10: Are there any plans to add any more cams to the area to be able to extend the viewing area and viewing time of the owlets and family once they leave the nest?
DH: We would love to add more cameras as long as Explore is on board with that. As far as adding cameras to track the birds once they leave the nest that’s really impossible to do. That’s where the nesting season is really great, it confines the birds to one spot and space for a period of time. But as far as to be able to monitor their movements that would be impossible, but tell Explore you love it and we will get some more cameras and watch some more owls.
Q11: What happened to our precious #3 owlet after she or he was found?
DH: It’s really hard to say what happened. One of our colleagues was up there monitoring the nest and the chicks and had actually seen number 3 the day before and photographed it and then the next day he found number 3 dead on the ground. You know, I don’t know what happened and you have to be careful in speculating, there was a bear in the area and the bird was very close to the ground and also walking around on the ground and on stumps. The bear was seen the next day and the owl was found the next day. The sequence is suggestive but we just don’t know. The fact that it wasn’t eaten, and it was a really healthy bird, a bird that should make it in my opinion indicates that maybe something happened maybe. It got killed somehow.
Q12: Are there any plans for having the camera’s on the great gray owls next year and will you leave them up all season?
DH: We plan on having the camera up next year and hopefully the birds choose the same nest. Would we leave them up year round, you know that’s up to Explore so right now it’s actually kinda cool because every now and again the owls come back to the nest so we are learning a little more about that. Even though they depart the nest at about 4 weeks of age, which you saw happen, to come back to the nest from time to time for whatever reason is interesting and it provides us with new information and I’m just learning a ton about great gray owls. I know a lot about other species but the great grays are relatively new to us.
Q13: Will the Charlo Ospreys chicks be banded this year?
DH: I don’t know, it’s hard to say. We would have to get a rig up there where we can actually raise a platform up there where we could band the chicks. I would probably talk to my friend Rob Domenech
who runs Raptor View in Missoula and is head of the osprey projects down there and get his thoughts on it. I’m not sure at the moment.
Q14: Will the great gray parents or owlets stay in the area?
DH: Most likely, during the winter time they tend to move out a little bit more in search of food, but they probably have a general home range there that they stick pretty tight too. And given that we know it’s been 3 years in a row they have nested there, they probably don’t venture too far. But what I do find interesting is in all the great grays and we have worked on great grays in the past but not with the intensity we are starting now with this project but very often we find pairs that will winter together, suggestive of males and females staying together throughout the winter and then those pairs disappear and move back toward the nesting area and so I suspect that they will as a pair.
Q15: My question is about expelling a pellet. Does that ever become a problem for owlets, watched as one tried for long time?
DH: You know it looks terrible, I have to admit it. I don’t know if it’s a problem but it really looks like a lousy situation when they get that big mass of bone and fur and spit it up. I don’t know but I can relate the story on snowy owls. Norman Smith, who works on snowy owls at Logan Airport in Boston, found a dead snowy owl and it had a pellet lodged in its throat and somehow the bone protruded from the pellet. Normally they are wrapped in there and it stuck into the throat and Norman believed that maybe it just choked.
Q16: Did the great grays owls nest in that same nest cavity last year?
DH: Yea they nested there. See this is the third year in a row the great grays have nested in this snag.
Q17: What information did you acquire from your recent trip to Alaska to study the snowy owl and is the snowy owl population rebounding?
DH: Well, I want to tell you this. The great grays owls, we were trying to catch the female and we had her in front of the net, all of a sudden the sun came out and it shone on the net and the net appeared as this silver wavy thing, and the female owl looked at the net and I knew she saw it and I made a quick move to try to flush her into it and I tore my calf muscle.So I didn’t make it to Alaska and I am rehabbing my calf muscle right now, but I do know in Alaska that not a lot is going on with the snowy owls. No one saw the nest yet and that was about a week ago when I had talked to the people up there and the lemmings populations were low so it’s still looking kinda bleak for the snowy owls in Alaska for the future.
Q18: What surprise or new information did you see with the Great Gray Owl cam that you didn’t have before this nest season?
DH: You know I am learning all kinds of things about owl behavior in general, it’s not just great grays. I have studied long ears for 30years and the snowy’s for 25 and many other species and with the advent of these camera’s particularly what goes on at the nest. The female’s interactions with the nesting environment, with her eggs, with her chicks, the male’s responsibilities. So we are learning a ton about the behavior at the nest and then the whole thing i mentioned earlier about the vocalizations. What do they all mean? The grunting by the female great gray owl when she’s doing something in the nest with
the chicks and you hear those grunting vocalizations. And then those other high-pitched vocalizations so we are learning a lot about that. And again, foraging behavior, how often does she take a break, how often does she move around and we can quantify all that because Explore records all this. It’s really neat to be able to watch them and particularly in black and white at night with the infrared.
There’s so much to learn.
Q19: What is the single most important thing that individuals can do to help protect owls?
DH: Support the Owl Institute (laughing) how’s that Great ambassador ’s for protecting all types of environment, so just know a little bit about the owls that live in the habitats or neighborhoods perhaps that you live in. And maintain the things like snags, like the big snag the Great Grays in, or the cavities in the side where there’s a Sow-Whet nest hole. One of the things we do notice in our work in the forest is the lack of snags or how they are taken down for firewood or for safety concerns, etc. So maybe just a little awareness about the biology and the habitat requirements of the owls will lead someone maybe to present some information, challenge something where needed or just be an advocate for conservation of the habitats and nest characteristics.
Q20: What is are your thoughts on human intervention in certain situations?
DH: Good and Bad. We’ve always felt it was really important to share research with the public because we want public support in the form of votes, or money or just general appreciation of the owls so that part is good. The other part sometimes though you know during the course of doing research, and it’s not just owls but all wildlife researchers, you do things to the animals that it doesn’t look great. You know you might jump into the nest and grab those great gray owls and their chicks are flapping around and they are biting at you and you know they hate it and you struggle with them. You have got to be careful and yet at the same time you have to show a little assertiveness and so it doesn’t look great but when we band them and put them back in the nest things are okay so certain things you want to share with the public and other things unfortunately you don’t because it can be misinterpreted even though most researchers go to great lengths to protect the animals that they’re with and assure their safety.
Q21:Do you name or number GGO offspring & Do you know how long the landowners have known about this nest?
DH: We don’t name them, I mean Tommy and Eddie and Jill, no we don’t do that. I don’t know why but we don’t. You know they are number one, number two, number three and number four. That way you get too attached to them and if something happens to them I’d say oh gosh Tommy got killed by a bear I mean I don’t know, we don’t do that. But we do appreciate them, I mean we have dedicated our lives to studying them. As far as the land owners go, they adore them. They just think it’s the neatest thing going, and they love the fact that now we are able to share our knowledge of the birds with them and all that.
Q22: Do owls and eagles get along? Who do you think would win in a adult fight?
DH: An eagle is a pretty big bird of prey you know, the bald eagle and the golden eagle. Great horned owls got a lot of moxxie you know and they have been known, and right down the road here this year, we have a bald eagle nest and when we did our surveys in March there was a great horned owl in the nest, and nesting and raised chicks.So you can interpret that the way you want but eagles are big and
tough but great horned owls at night are pretty tough and I don’t know if you watched the osprey video, this osprey right here off to my left on our yard, well when the male is sleeping and you can see them at night, Captain Green or one of the camera operators got a phenomenal sequence out of the shadows and the infrared in the dark of the night, you see a glow coming in from the distance and that glow gets bigger and bigger and bigger and it’s a great horned owl gliding in and whacks the male osprey in the back, they both go tumbling off the perch. Phenomenal events but you got to have a lot of guts to take on an osprey which is quite a bit bigger than the great horned owl.
Q23:Is it unusual for a research team to intervene with wildlife as was done when the owlet fell out of this tree and was placed back with its family?
DH: Yes, I did place the back, normally we don’t do something like that but my thoughts on it were that it may have legitimately fell out of the nest, and i should have just left it alone because it jumped out of the nest the next day anyway. They all left the nest at about 27, 28, 29 days. So I take responsibility for that, I probably should have just left it alone but i was up there monitoring it and all that. We normally don’t do things like that, even when they are sick we don’t do things like that. We try to monitor their lives, not there to make more of them, we are there to learn about them.
Q24: What type of information is gathered by the Owl Research Institute and how is it used?
DH: First of all, we are different than most, and I have to be careful here (laugh). We’re different because we do a long time research and I think that you need a minimum of ten years on any species. So we do long term research and we do it full time, it’s not like you go out in the summertime for a couple of weeks and collect data. So that’s what’s different about us. So we collect data and again you can use the great grays or the great horned owls,the long ears, the osprey we really don’t do research on, and so we look at their survival, we look at the nest site characteristics, we look at their food habits, we look at their growth. There’s all these kind of interesting questions that only people like myself and a few others in the world really care about, hormones and genetics and all that, but the overall picture is to by doing a lot of sightings is to look at their population, look at their habitat requirements and then make that data available for conservation and management decisions. That’s the important thing. The long term monitoring is really really important and again that’s where we’re different than most of the traditional homes of research, we do long time research. Our long-eared owls study is 30 years going right now, well 31 actually. Our snowy is 26 years going this year and you know boreal, pygmy,
Saw-whet are all 20 or so years. Our smaller, what i call our younger adolescent studies are 8 to 10 years and the great gray owls. Now we’ve worked on great gray owls but not with the intensity we are starting now and we are shooting for 10 years at minimum.
Q25: How long will the cameras stay on?
DH: It’s up to Explore and until maybe it looks like the birds aren’t there anymore and then I guess I will have conversations with the Explore team and then we will make some decision on that, but right now they seem to be coming back to the nest from time to time.
Q26: Did you enjoy your trip to Barrow?
DH: I hate leaving Montana but I do love it when I get to the snowy owls and the tundra and freeze my butt off. This is the first June, thanks to my calf tear, that I have spent in Montana in 25 years and I have to admit I’m kinda enjoying it.
Q27: Did you see any long-eared owls this season and any that were likely last year’s fledglings?
DH: Okay the long-eared owls this season. For those of you who might have seen when I did this chat awhile back, we had a really severe winter and we found dead owls, dead long ears, dead short ears in our study areas, but then we had a surge at the very end a very late nesting going on. So we have some long-ears that are nesting right now, and short ears, well they are tailing off, but it was very very late this year but in very few nests. I can’t tell you that we had any of the young from last year returned to the area. The camera that we’ve hard for the 4 years on the long-eared owls on one of our sites in Missoula was great. It was the same female for 4 years in a row, she had a different mate this year which was kind of interesting and we banded all the chicks in each year, but we haven’t gotten any feedback like natal file patch when one returns to the natal area to breed so we haven’t gotten any information from those nests, but overall with our long eared owl project, yes we have been able to provide data where both male and females that are born in the area sometimes return to the area.
Q28: Are the owlets hunting on their own?
DH: I’m assuming you’re talking about the great grays and the great horns. Probably not. You can still hear them food begging if you listen to the audio on the cameras at both sites. You’ll hear them at night you know these kinda screams. Something like that, I can’t do it that well, but those are food begging calls so they’re totally still dependent on the parents. And they are just probably right about at the fledging stage now, where they are flying fairly well but maybe not capable of hunting yet. And they will bum as much food as they can right up until autumn and then after that, it’s hard to know the dynamics do the adults kick them out? Do they wake up one morning and you’re parents are gone? I mean we don’t know all that yet.
Q29: What kind of agencies look at your data and/or consult with you for policy making?
DH: Well you know you don’t hear that much from the agencies, you hope that they are reading the literature and they’re looking at some of your results. Now locally here yea I work closely with the Flathead Indian Reservation, the US Official Wildlife Service, private landowners, and a little bit with the State of Montana.I’m trying to at least talk about management i guess would be the bigger issue here. Management of the landscape in relation to the owls. For example, you can look at the short-eared owls nest in grasslands, and grasslands in an area like this are used for farming, used for grazing. They are set aside for wild fowl production or pheasant production. So in the course of all that there’s actions that occur in this field this year and then next year you do that, or we will try to identify the field where there is activity. So there is a variety of things that go on and on a local scale we try to work together on. Sometimes it’s difficult because everybody has different objectives but for the most part I think we do okay.
Q30: What is your favorite fun fact about owls that most people don’t know?
DH: I like everything about owls, yea I don’t know, I just like the heck out of them. Well there’s subtle things like why do pygmy owls have eye spots on the back of their heads? Why did that evolve? Why do long-eared owls have dark wrists marks here, you know kind of things like that you ask these questions and you, well i don’t know if you want to hypothesize as to why, but you ask these questions and try to figure out methods of maybe getting to the answer if possible. But there’s a lot, I mean there
is so much about owls that is so unique. First of all I would say they are one of the most well known group of animals in the world and from a conservation perspective if you have a landscape that needs protecting, find the owls that live there and use them as a poster child.
Q31: Did the Owl Research Institute retrieve the owlet and do a proper burial in the forest or did you allow nature to take it’s course?
DH: Did we bury the owl that was found dead. No, we did not. We took the band off of it and we left it there. I hope that doesn’t offend you, sorry.
Q32: How are local pollutants.heavy metals, light and noise pollution affecting the owls?
DH: You know, I don’t know the answer to that, for the most part you know owls have been a group that’s not affected too too much by some of the stuff we put into the environment, usually because they eat small mammals in particular and a lot of these things don’t accumulate in small mammals like they do in birds or fish or fish eaters like the ospreys and the eagles. Noise pollutants I can’t tell you the, I don’t answer to that either how the owls doing? You know sometimes when we are doing surveys and snowmobiling and you know the snowmobiles are loud and dirty and all that stuff, and we get way up in the mountains and you shut the snowmobile off and there’s a boreal owl calling right above your head so they don’t appear to be affected by it.
Okay that seems like all the questions.
DH: Okay it sounds like that’s it? Alright, well I guess that’s it. You can go to our website the Owl Research dot org and look at that and hopefully it was worthwhile to all of you and I guess we are signing off. Okay thank you , thank you very much.