Support provided by Columbus Audubon


Conservation Impact

Blake Mathys, Ph.D., Ohio Dominican University

Photo by John Kuenzli

Despite their familiarity, there are still many things that are unknown about owls and their life history. They are secretive and nocturnal, which makes them hard to study. As with a lot of bird species, many owl populations have been decreasing; however, for many species, we simply do not have enough information to come to any firm conclusions about their population size or status. Ohio has eight owl species that are found in the state annually. Of these eight, four are state-listed species: Barn Owls are threatened, and Short-eared, Long-eared, and Northern Saw-whet Owls are species of special interest. Due to their inconspicuousness, most bird surveying methods likely miss many or most of the individuals that are found in Ohio. This project will better document the winter range and abundance for all of the state-listed owl species except Short-eared Owl.

There will be three main conservation benefits from this research:

  1. Better understanding of the abundance, range, and habitat use of wintering owls will allow that habitat to potentially be conserved and enhanced. Without knowing which locations owls are using, it is not possible to prevent their destruction or try to increase the size and/or quality of those locations.
  2. All three of the species in this study are uncommon to very rare breeders in Ohio. In the past, when Long-eared and Northern Saw-whet Owls have bred in the state, they have sometimes done so in areas where they also wintered. A better knowledge of wintering locations may help point to breeding locations. Barn Owl populations in Ohio have been significantly increased by the installation of nest boxes; Long-eared Owls have readily used artificial nests (i.e., baskets) in other areas, and Northern Saw-whet Owls are cavity nesters that will use artificial nest boxes. It may be possible to increase the breeding population of the latter two species by installing artificial nests in areas with wintering owls.
  3. As an educator, I strive to expose people to the natural world. Owls are captivating and enthralling, and have the ability to serve as ambassadors to the general public. This project will increase public knowledge, letting people know that these owls are much more common than is usually realized. Even more importantly, the understanding that these owls are not only found in nature preserves and wildlife areas, but can show up on farms and suburbs and in cities, will encourage people to be more cognizant of the need to conserve their local habitat. I always impress upon my students the fact that we as humans live in and are a part of nature; I want people to realize that their personal property can serve as owl habitat and that their actions can have a direct impact on owls.
In summary, we cannot conserve or protect owls in Ohio without an accurate understanding of their numbers and which habitats they use. This project will increase our knowledge of Ohio’s owls and will educate and inspire people about these exciting and interesting birds.

Questions? See the Central Ohio Owl Project webpage, my main website (, or email me at