|The survey makes an important contribution to our understanding of owl distribution and population health across Canada. Owls are high on the food chain and thus vulnerable to many environmental disturbances, making them great indicators of environmental health. But monitoring owl populations is no easy task, because most species are secretive and primarily nocturnal. Specialized surveys like the NOS allow us to keep track of what’s going on with these species.|
Although the NOS has been running for more than 20 years in some provinces, it has only expanded to Newfoundland and Labrador within the last few years. In 2018, Memorial University graduate student Travis Heckford partnered with Birds Canada to set up 35 owl survey routes, and volunteer citizen scientists across the province took the first step towards collecting the data necessary to evaluate the health of NL’s owl populations.
Since 2018, the survey has continued to grow, and this year it expanded dramatically with the establishment of more than 20 new routes. From its humble beginnings only 4 years ago, the survey has grown to involve more than 60 volunteers surveying 57 routes across the province.
The owl survey is so popular partly because it is perfect for beginning birders. Only 6 species of owls breed in NL, and of those, there are only 3 volunteers are likely to encounter during a nocturnal survey. So those who have never taken part in citizen science bird surveys before can learn the necessary calls relatively easily.