Birdman Denver Holt tells why owls are something to hoot about.
Last winter, dozens of snowy owls set off a birding frenzy when they hunkered down in a stubbly field near Montana’s Pablo Reservoir, south of Flathead Lake. By chance, the rare owls landed within hooting distance of Denver Holt and his Owl Research Institute (www.owlinstitute.org ). Although Holt works on wildlife from Alaska to Central America, he is crazy for Montana’s owls—all 15 species.
Q Been into owls long?
A Since university days in Missoula. A friend and I found a northern pygmy owl and a northern saw-whet owl nesting in the same tree. We watched them morning and evening and missed a lot of classes.
Q Are owls important?
A I don’t think animals need a purpose, but if you don’t like rodents on your land, owls are good to have around. Long-eared owls have eaten 40,000 rodents on a single ranch over the last few years.
Q Why so many snowy owls last year?
A We had one of our biggest years for voles (lemminglike rodents). When the owls found that field, they just settled in.
Q Will they be back this year?
A Can’t predict. Call the Montana Birding Hotline at (406) 721-9799. If the owls are around, locals will be glad to give directions.
Q Any other options?
A Listen to owls on the Web (owling.com ), then go out between dusk and dawn just before nesting season. Great horned owls, the easiest to find, nest in December and January, often near rivers.
Q Do all owls hoot?
A The large species tend to hoot. Small ones tend to be whistlers and tooters.
Q Has an owl amazed you lately?
A One snowy owl regurgitated a weasel skull—that’s rare.
This article was first published in November 2006. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.