Tiny, big-eyed Northern Saw-whet Owl breeds in forests in more than three dozen states and provinces: from Alaska south to Mexico, across southern Canada, throughout the Great Lakes states to New England, and south through the Appalachians. Despite isolated areas in the western Dakotas where it occurs year-round, the species has been considered an “absent or very rare breeder” in the Great Plains.
But don’t tell that to ornithologists in Nebraska. They’d long suspected the owl nested in their state, especially after young birds were spotted occasionally since 2002, but they didn’t have proof. So Wayne Mollhoff, coordinator of the Nebraska Breeding Birds Atlas, placed 27 nest boxes in several counties, and in March 2014, he hit the jackpot: four owlets in a nest in the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area, in the state’s western panhandle.
Then, in February 2015, he found a second nest, in the Nebraska National Forest, near Crawford, about 80 miles north of the first nest. And in April, he spotted owls nesting again at the Wildcat Hills site. Will there be more?
A version of this article appeared in the October 2015 issue of BirdWatching.
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