Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Birders took a toll on Owls?


There is a disappointing article in the autumn 2005 issue of The Nature Conservancy magazine about the 2004/2005 northern owl irruption. The Sightings column paragraph titled "The Year of the Owl - Birders get Northern Owl Exposure" by science writer Christine Mlot states, "The roads and cars that brought in droves of birders took a toll on the owls." While there is no doubt in my mind that there was increased automobile traffic due to birders driving up to northern Wisconsin and Minnesota wanting to glimpse the boreal owls, I doubt they're to blame to the extent this sentence seems to imply.

I don't even know of a rumor of a birder having struck an owl with their car. I realize that this doesn't make it a fact, but when birders are birding via automobile through an area where owls have been reported, their cars are relatively easy to spot. They're the ones driving about 10 to 20MPH along the side of the road. While this behavior probably earned a few angry fingers, if you want to point the "blame finger" at a group of people for owl deaths, then you should do so at people who drive excessively faster than posted speed limits.

While starvation was a cause of death for many of these owls, far more were in fact killed due to collisions with automobiles. However, I disagree with Mlot's sentiment that it was birders who took a toll on the owls. When I was in the Superior area last December with a couple of other birders, whenever we saw an owl ahead along the road we pulled over and waited for it to move on before driving off. Naturally, I can't speak for all birders out there, but I'm willing to bet their birding ethics, behavior and experiences in the field in the vast majority of cases were much like my own.

Birders are looking for the owls. I doubt other non-birder drivers even care. How's that for a hasty generalization?

Link: All about the Great Gray Owl from Cornell Labs

Great Gray Owl image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

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