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November 02, 2010

FRAMINGHAM ­– A long-term banding project performed by a group of biologists, including Framingham State University professor Dr. Brandi Van Roo, has helped unlock secrets of the tiny Northern Saw-whet owl -- secrets that will help with the conservation of the species.

“Up until a decade ago, very little was known about the Saw-whet owl’s migration patterns,” Van Roo said recently. “Multiple banding sites were established up and down the east coast, which have led to discoveries around migration patterns and mortality rates.”

A banding site is an area along a bird’s migration pattern where they are caught and small bands are placed on their legs.

“We record the sex and age of the bird,” Van Roo said. “When the bird is re-caught during the same year or different years, we learn about migration patterns and it gives us a sense of population size. Age ratios can suggest whether or not the population is growing.”

The Saw-whet owl is the smallest type of owl in the northeast, which makes them very difficult to spot. Each fall Van Roo brings students from her ecology class and the University’s Wildlife Club out to the banding site to teach them about the research and techniques used.

The banding site is located in Northbridge, MA. Students typically stay from 7 to 10 p.m. in order to study this nocturnal bird.

The birds are caught using mist nets, which are nearly invisible at night.

“Beside each net we play a recorded tape of the Saw-whet owl’s song,” Van Roo said. “When they come to investigate who is singing, they fly straight into the net.” Van Roo noted that federally-issued permits are required to catch and band birds.

“The bands are issued by the government and we report our findings back to them,” she said.
Migration patterns aid scientists with their conservation efforts by targeting areas of habitat that should be protected. “That’s really the big payoff,” Van Roo said.

About Framingham State University

As Massachusetts' premier state college, Framingham State University offers prepared and motivated students a wide range of challenging undergraduate and graduate programs. Located just 20 miles from Boston, the college offers many options for students to engage in real-world learning both on its quintessential New England campus and in Boston and its thriving MetroWest region.

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Framingham State University

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Phone: 508-620-1220