CENTRAL OHIO OWL PROJECT
Blake Mathys, Ph.D., Ohio Dominican University
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|Owls have been one of my favorite groups since I first became interested in birds. They are charismatic and enthralling; any encounter with an owl is not likely to be forgotten. In 2013, I started conducting annual owl walks on our farm in Union County, giving people a chance to see these amazing birds. Owls are secretive, reclusive, and nocturnal; these characteristics can make them difficult to find and hard to study. A few years ago, I noticed that there were not very many Long-eared, Barn, or Northern Saw-whet Owls reported to the large citizen-science database known as eBird. For example, I live in Union County; I saw that there were only two eBird reports for Long-eared Owls in the entire county. I had submitted both of those reports, but had also seen Long-eared Owls in the county on two other occasions. I don't believe that my sightings are the only Long-eared Owls to ever be seen in Union County; however, I came to realize that owls, and especially rare owls, are much less likely to be reported to bird-monitoring programs like eBird. There are probably a couple of reasons for this: rare owls often attract attention, and some people don't want to make it known that they have a rare species on their property, because they don't want lots of people visiting trying to see it (in some instances, some have trespassed in the hopes of seeing owls). The second reason is related: in the past, some owls have been disturbed by the attention that they received, to the point that they've abandoned their roosts. This opinion piece in The New York Times does a good job of explaining the issues. In 2017, I found a Long-eared Owl on our property, and I had similar concerns; I allowed other people to come see it, but only at a specific time when I was home to monitor how many people were present and what was happening. I reported the sighting to eBird, but weeks later, long after the owl had left. My goal in starting the Central Ohio Owl Project (COOP) (based at Ohio Dominican University) is to better document the occurrence of wintering owls throughout Central Ohio. I want to provide a confidential place for people to report owl sightings; when data are reported by the project, it will only be done at the township or county level. Advertising will be done to solicit sightings; it's likely that many people know of owls that spend the winter in their evergreen trees or Barn Owls that roost in one of their outbuildings, but don't know about the significance of the owls' presence or how to report it. I hope to inspire people to get out and check for owls in their local area. I will also be carrying out targeted searches in areas that seem likely to hold wintering owls. The three species on which the project is focused are considered threatened (Barn Owl) or species of special interest (Long-eared Owl and Northern Saw-whet Owl) in Ohio (PDF of Ohio's Listed Species). Therefore, a better knowledge of their adundance and wintering range could prove valuable for conservation (click here for conservation impact statement). I'm also interested to compare the results with eBird, to get an idea of eBird's efficacy in documenting these rare and elusive species.
Timeline: The winter of '20-'21 was the first year of data collection. Over 1,600 owl reports were submitted to the project, and targeted searches found individuals of all three species. I am continuing to solicit sightings.
Geographic Coverage: I'm accepting owl reports from any part of Ohio, although the project is focused on Hardin, Marion, Morrow, Knox, Licking, Fairfield, Pickaway, Madison, Franklin, Clark, Champaign, Logan, Union, and Delaware Counties.
Some Background Information about Owls in Ohio
Questions? See my main website (BlakeMathys.com) or email me at email@example.com.