Short-eared Owl - Livingston County - © Jeff Thompson

Short-eared Owl – Livingston County – © Jeff Thompson

It’s almost that time of year again! As the days shorten and the air gets crisper, we start thinking about all of the raptors that will be visiting us from even colder latitudes. Every year, NYSDEC regions across the state monitor wintering raptor presence to record where and how these birds are spending their winter. Some of these species are of conservation concern, such as the Short-eared Owl and Northern Harrier, and our data helps in planning management decisions that might affect these species.

Here in DEC Region 8, most surveys take place along public roads, with some in state Wildlife Management Areas or conservation group properties. We record any hawks, eagles, or owls that we see during the hour-long survey, and focus on areas where these birds may be foraging or roosting to give us a better idea of important habitat preferences. These surveys are also a complement to breeding-season surveys and give researchers a more complete picture of yearly cycles and habitat preference.

For the past several years, DEC Region 8 has had the support of a fantastic birding community and volunteer surveyors to cover a large range of potential habitat. We hope to continue that this winter, and welcome anyone who wants to join in – whether seasoned surveyors or brand-new birders. Newbies are paired with experienced surveyors until they feel comfortable with the process, and you are welcome to help with just one survey or the entire season.

Since Short-eared Owls are our focal species, surveys take place when these birds are most active and likely to be seen – just around dusk. Surveys run from 30 minutes before sunset to 30 minutes after, or as long as light conditions allow. This means that our survey times will change as the season goes on – so even if your work schedule doesn’t allow you to come out in December, please keep us in mind (or look out for a reminder listserv post) when March rolls around!

We run surveys out of two locations in order to cover a large portion of the Finger Lakes/Genesee region, and survey sites are usually within a 20-minute drive of our meeting location. Avon-area surveys are held every other Tuesday (starting 11/22) and we meet beforehand at the DEC Avon office (6274 E. Avon-Lima Rd). Trumansburg-area surveys are held every other Thursday (starting 12/8) out of the Ulysses Philomathic Library (74 E. Main St). Our first few meetings/surveys will take place around the 3:30-6:30PM time frame.

Some additional survey opportunities will be available around the Iroquois NWR – please let me know if you might be interested in these.

Please send me an email at or call the Avon wildlife office at 585-226-5380 if you’d like more information or would like to get involved with our surveys this winter. Our first Avon survey will be Nov 22 (meeting at 3:30), and our first Trumansburg survey will be Dec 8 (meeting at 3:15).

Thanks so much to everyone who has made these last few years of surveys such a success – our region is truly unique in having such a dedicated volunteer crew collecting a wealth of information. Hope to see you soon!

Contact: Christina Hoh, wildlife technician
Phone: 585-226-5380