Nocturnal, secretive, and steeped in folklore, owls are cryptic wild critters that give up the details of their lives only grudgingly. Blake Mathys, a member of Marysville-based Union Rural Electric Cooperative, hopes to shine a little light on the subject this winter.
Mathys, an associate professor of environmental science at Ohio Dominican University, has started the Central Ohio Owl Project (COOP) to better document wintering owls in Ohio — especially rarer species like barn owls, long-eared owls, and northern saw-whet owls.
“My main reason for developing the project is that, for a number of reasons, owl sightings often don’t get reported, even by citizen-scientists and serious birders,” Mathys says. “I want to provide a secure outlet to get a better idea of the true numbers of owls in our state during the winter months.”
What Mathys is requesting is that anyone spotting an owl this winter — anywhere, of any species, on private or public land — report the sighting to him online, where there’s a form that asks users where they saw the owl, the species (if known), plus a few other basic questions.
“If you can get close enough to take a photograph of the owl, that would be helpful for positive identification,” Mathys says. “Your owl sighting might even be eligible for a small cash reward.”
Mathys also stresses that the locations provided will be kept strictly confidential and the information used only for research purposes. All three of the study’s main owl species are either threatened in Ohio (barn owl) or a species of special concern (long-eared owl and northern saw-whet owl), so information about their wintering habits, habitats, and numbers could prove helpful in their conservation.
Look for barn owls in or near structures, such as old barns, silos, and sheds. Long-eared owls and northern saw-whet owls are found roosting primarily in evergreen trees during winter.
“Owls have always been one of my favorite groups of birds, and for a long time I’ve been convinced that there are many more owls around than people realize,” Mathys says. “I would very much appreciate the assistance of any fellow electric co-op members who would like to participate in the study.”