Naturalist Tyler Christensen

A tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl sprang off of naturalist Tyler Christensen’s hand and vanished into the darkness, silently slicing through the night air.

Their stealthy flight allows these nocturnal owls to more easily catch mice and other small prey while wintering in New Jersey and farther south as they migrate from their breeding grounds in southern Canada and northern United States.

Christensen is the director of the Wild Bird Research Group, Inc., and the nonprofit is in its fifth year of banding the Saw-whet Owls at the Watershed Reserve.  For the past month, he has shared his expertise and enthusiasm for these rarely seen creatures during educational sessions at The Watershed Center.

In what is shaping up to be a banner year, Christensen and his team have banded 271 of these nocturnal creatures so far. One owl he banded was recaptured at a Smithsonian station in Maryland just six days later, showing how far it had traveled.

“We are catching more owls than ever before,” he said. “On our busiest night this year we caught 64 owls.  While these are not a threatened or endangered species, they do seem to be declining, and population monitoring through bird banding helps us figure out why.”

He said the fluctuation in Saw-whet numbers is largely due to the amount of prey available, which in turn is driven by the amount of resources available for the prey to eat.