Jim Braaten

Jim Braaten lives near Kenyon, Minn., and has been an avid outdoorsman for more than 35 years. He lives on the family farm that was first settled by his ancestors 152 years ago. He has been an outdoors writer and photographer, and he owns a business producing and marketing calendars.

Two Faribault men help establish a new wildlife record

Posted by: Jim Braaten under Birding Updated: June 20, 2011 - 10:34 AM

If you were to perform a Google search to determine the longest recorded lifespan for a Barred Owl you’ll discover a plethora of sources all claiming 18 years, 3 months as the well established longevity record for this avian species (found in the wild). That is until recently when two Faribault area men, acting independently, made an effort to set the new record straight.

This is a story about the beginning and the end for one of nature’s creatures. Unfortunately, there isn’t much information about what this Barred Owl did during the course of its lifetime, but there’s plenty to prove this particular Barred Owl was no ordinary bird.

Field notes taken by Forest Strnad in 1986.

Field notes taken by Forest Strnad in 1986.

It started back on May 24th, 1986, Forest Strnad and a friend visiting from England were hiking in an area now known as the River Bend Nature Center on the southeast side of Faribault, Minnesota. As they were walking along, the two friends suddenly observed a Barred Owl quickly fly out of a tree cavity. As a Federally Licensed Bird Bander, Strnad decided to climb up the tree where he eventually found three nestling Barred Owls.

One by one he removed the young birds and brought them to the ground where he banded and recorded his amazing discovery. Once banded, they were carefully returned to the tree thinking it to be a long-shot they would hear about these birds ever again.

Such is the life of a bird bander. You leave your mark on a bird with the hopes that someday an interesting story will develop. In the case of a migratory bird perhaps it will fly thousands of miles away when it is next discovered. In the case of a Barred Owl, movement is rather minimal over its lifetime so seeing a bird travel even 20 or 30 miles might be an extraordinary circumstance. 

Close-up of bird band recovered by Rost.

Close-up of bird band recovered by Rost.

Yet, in the case of Barred Owl carrying the band numbered 0667–95412, documented distance is not what made this bird’s discovery so unusual. Instead, it was the Barred Owl’s age which shattered the previous longevity record by nearly six years. In fact, a Barred Owl living for almost 24 years is unheard of even in captivity. 

But this story doesn’t get written without another critical participant. Faribault Fire Captain, Todd Rost, was working during June 2010 on a drowning recovery detail along the Cannon River when he witnessed a somewhat usual sight while kayaking. There, floating in the water, was a tangled mess of feathers and monofilament line.

Rost contacted me about his discovery concerned about how wildlife can suffer when humans are careless about our trash. Subsequent to that contact, I blogged about his discovery a year ago which can be read HERE.

Entangled Barred Owl as it was found on the Cannon River near Faribault.

Entangled Barred Owl as it was found on the Cannon River near Faribault.

Honestly, we thought the story would end there figuring Rost had discovered a banded bird that succumbed to an unfortunate fate due to discarded fishing line. Yet, the story was far from over as Rost later learned when he reported on the bird’s band information.

Initially Rost reported the bird as likely a Red-Tailed Hawk because it was badly decayed and the feathers were quite faded and water-worn. Soon thereafter, Rost received a query from the Bird Banding Laboratory verifying information mostly because “we found that age of the bird is unusual.”

Rost followed-up by providing pictures and other documentation to confirm that the bird found was indeed the same Barred Owl that Forest Strnad had banded 24 years earlier.

Today, when you look at the longevity records for owls you will see the new Barred Owl record contains an entry that makes this Faribault area bird somewhat special, at least to folks who find interest in these sort of facts. It also underscores the importance of bird banding efforts and their subsequent retrieval and reporting. 

Forest Strnad and Todd Rost hold the recovered band from Barred Owl numbered 0667-95412.

Forest Strnad and Todd Rost hold the recovered band from Barred Owl numbered 0667-95412.

Indeed, it’s an unlikely set of circumstances that would bring two Faribault men together to help establish an important record for an owl that lived out its entire life in the wooded river valleys surrounding their town. Yes, there’s a certain satisfaction for both Strnad and Rost in knowing they helped a local Barred Owl set a new lifespan record having documented 24 years of existence. 

As incredible as that fact remains, what may be even more impressive is the knowledge that records show only two owls (of any species) that has been documented to have lived longer than the Faribault area Barred Owl known only as #0667–95412.

As Todd Rost will surely attest, finding a bird of any kind dead and entangled in fishing line is not the desired way to view these majestic creatures. On the other hand, had this particular Barred Owl died of some other natural cause it might never have been found and reported—and that, too, would have been a great tragedy as we now understand the important facts.

Certificate awarded to Todd Rost on his recovery.

Certificate awarded to Todd Rost on his recovery.

Blogger’s Note: If you find a bird of any kind that has been banded, please follow the reporting information on the band or contact the Bird Banding Laboratory for additional information. The information you provide can be critical to those wildlife professionals who research such details. Even if you have bands several years old, the information is never too late to report.

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