- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
On a recent morning on a farm in Allens Fresh, young owls were about to get their close-up in their nest.
Members of the Southern Maryland Audubon Society and River View Grange, a grassroots agricultural-based group, along with others, gathered on the 814 waterfront acres to watch a group of tawny young barn owls, hatched recently and getting ready to fledge, receive a piece of hardware before they left the nest for good.
“Barn owls can nest in Maryland any month of the year,” said society President Mike Callahan, as he climbed a ladder to the box on an elevated pole where the owls were nesting. “Typically, in Southern Maryland, owls lay eggs in February and March.”
Barn owls lay an egg every couple of days or so, resulting in siblings hatching at different times within days of each other.
That might explain that when Callahan reached the nest, even after plugging the round opening with a towel to prevent any of the birds from making a break for it, the oldest (Callahan presumed) “child” lit out before he had a chance to nab it.
But there were four more.
Despite the pitch-perfect cappuccino machine-like hiss given off by the birds, Callahan reached in and gathered them one by one “I wear gloves because their talons are like syringes right now, because they haven’t been used,” he said.
Callahan didn’t have to worry about the parents coming to their young’s defense.
The adult birds are out of the nest as much as possible at this point, he said.
“The parents should not be here,” Callahan said. “The babies are too big now. They would be crying and begging all day. The parents don’t hunt during the day but they stay clear of the nest to get away from the begging.”
With the help of volunteers, each fledgling or owlet a couple still were covered in down was placed in a cardboard box for transportation to be banded.
Bird banding has been in use for centuries, dating as far back as the 1500s, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Bird Banding Laboratory, headquartered at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel.
John James Audubon, the best known artist of birds, is thought to be the first American to engage in the practice when in 1803 he tied silver cords to the legs of phoebes near Philadelphia in order to identify two of them when they came back to the area in 1804.
By 1909 the American Bird Banding Association was formed and a little more than a decade later the Bureau of Biological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service took over the group and organized a banding program in the states for the Bureau of Biological Survey, now the USGS, according to the banding lab’s website.
Banding data is used for research and management efforts, said Callahan, who was an apprentice bander before earning a license as a master bander of raptors (he eventually wants to get his license to band songbirds).
Bands are affixed to a bird’s leg and if it is found and sent to the laboratory, researchers can “see how far it’s gone, how long it lived,” Callahan explained to the rapt audience of those watching the raptors.
Helping him were Bruce White of Cobb Island, a member of the Audubon Society, falconer Bill Tierney of Sykesville and Faith Peck, a Great Mills High School student who is working on a natural resources project.
Tierney, who made the two-hour trek to Charlotte Hall to take part in the banding, said changes in the environment are contributing to the loss of habitats for many species and the declining number of some bird populations.
White has been a member of the Audubon Society for 30 years, developing his interest and respect in birds and wildlife through his grandmother.
He said he likes to help in conservation efforts.
“Anything I can do,” White said. “They all deserve a chance to thrive and not be harmed. I think it’s part of being a responsible human.”