A nocturnal forest-dweller with dark eyes and a deep voice, the Flammulated Owl is very small, weighing less than 2 oz. It gets its name from its flame-colored scapular feathers. It is the only owl to breed in Colorado and migrate to warmer climes in the winter, and it is strictly insectivorous, preying on moths, beetles and other nocturnal insects.
Much of its breeding habitat occurs in commercially valuable forests, including those dominated by Ponderosa Pine and Douglas-fir. Although the Flammulated Owl is not uncommon in good habitat, little is known about its relative population size in various forest-cover types. The Flammulated Owl is considered to be a “bird of conservation concern” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), a “sensitive species” by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and a “species of greatest conservation need” by several states.
To better understand the distribution and habitat associations of Flammulated Owls, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory developed and tested a sampling design to survey for this species in collaboration with USFWS, USFS, Idaho Bird Observatory, HawkWatch International and PRBO Conservation Science.
Two seasonal RMBO employees, Tyler Michels and Eric Ressel, conducted surveys throughout Colorado’s Roosevelt National Forest from mid-May to early July in 2010 by broadcasting a Flammulated Owl call and listening for responses from territorial owls. They heard more than 50 Flammulated Owls in Ponderosa Pine and mixed-coniferous forests.
The sampling design worked well, and in 2011 RMBO partnered with the USFS and USFWS to survey 12 National Forest units in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota.