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Owls

Owls

Barred owls (mp3)

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Earlybird Owls (mp3)

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Forest Owls (mp3)

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Place of the Snowy Owls (mp3)

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Saw-Whet Owls (mp3)

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Screech Owls (mp3)

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Shorteared owls (mp3, Transcript)

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Short eared owls

Short eared owls are medium-sized, ground-nesting owls. They're widespread throughout Interior Alaska, but biologists would like to learn more about their numbers, population trends, and migratory habits. Across North America numbers of short eared owls have declined about 70 percent over past 40 years, but they're pretty secure in Alaska because there is a lot of good habitat.

Short eared owls face most threats on their wintering grounds outside Alaska, largely because grassland habitats are converted to farms or subdivisions. Biologists are eager to learn where the owls that spend summers in Interior Alaska are spending the winters, and learn what problems they may face on their wintering grounds.

Fish and Game biologist Travis Booms worked in the Nome area with federal Fish and Wildlife Service biologists to equip 14 short-eared owls with tracking devices; small, solar-powered, backpack-style satellite transmitters.

Short-eared owls are relatively active during the day and favor open country. They roost in open areas and grassy flats, so during the day the transmitter can send a signal and the small battery can charge. "With these transmitters, we can follow them worldwide," Booms said.

As of late-October, all the owls had left the Nome area and flown east and then south. One had made it as far as Nebraska, another South Dakota, and six had moved into southern Canada. One flew hundreds of miles out over the Pacific Ocean. Booms and his colleagues are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to learn where these birds spend the winter.

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Snowy Owl (mp3, Transcript)

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Snowy Owl

Crossing the Mendenhall Wetlands on a foggy Sunday morning in October of 2017, a Juneau duck hunter spotted an unusual white bird sitting up in the tall brown marsh grass - a snowy owl. These Arctic raptors are rarely seen in Southeast Alaska, which is well outside their normal range.

Snowy owl sightings outside the Arctic have typically been associated with irruptions. Irruptions occur when non-migratory birds that normally stay in a region like Interior Alaska year-round move long distances. This usually happens in lean winters when food is scarce. That is sometimes true for snowy owls, but biologists are learning there is more to snowy owl irruptions than a search for food. They will travel long distances even when there is plenty of food in the arctic. They're nomadic.

Biologists are also documenting mega-irruptions, extreme events where great numbers of snowy owls leave the Arctic. There was a huge irruption the winter of 2013-2014 and thousands of snowy owls were seen in throughout the Great Lakes region, and all down the Eastern Seaboard as far south as northern Florida.

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owls (mp3, Transcript)

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Owls

On a spring night, the call of a Northern saw whet owl echoes through the forest. Saw whet owls are one of about 10 owl species found in Alaska. While owls may not be readily seen, they can be heard, especially in the spring, and most of Alaska's owls can be identified by their distinct calls. Saw whets are tiny forest owls. They're quiet most of the year, as they are prey for larger owls. But in the spring they are quite vocal, and males can broadcast this one-note mating call for hours.

The western screech owl is has a call like a "bouncing ball," the hoots speed up over the course of the call. The owl's name is misleading as it isn't really known to screech. Like the Saw whet, it's a small forest owl found in Southeast and southcentral Alaska.

The boreal owl has a call similar in tone to the saw whet, but delivered in a run of about 12 notes then a pause, then repeated. As the name implies, Boreal owls are found in northern and interior Alaska.

Barred owls are newcomers to Alaska. They are close cousins to the spotted owl of the American west, and will hybridize with spotted owls. A century ago barred owls were found primarily in the American South, where they're known as hoot owls. But over the latter half of the 20th century they extended their range north and west. They were first documented in Southeast Alaska in the 1970s, and now they're relatively common. These territorial owls readily respond to "hooting" and will answer an imitated call.

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