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Aug 10, 2014 10:23 PM by Winston Greely - MT FWP

Glacier National Park home to a very unusual owl

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK - One of the rarest owls in the contiguous U.S. lives right here in Montana.

Twenty years ago researchers were surprised to discover that Northern Hawk Owls live in Glacier National Park.

"This is kind of the southern extreme of their breeding range and we just don't have a great handle on why they are here, why Glacier?" said Owl Research Institute's Matt Larson.

The Northern Hawk Owl lives and breeds primarily in Canada. But when a breeding pair was discovered in Glacier in 1994, Montana became one of the only states with baby hawk owls, which researchers try to capture before they can fly.

"There are right around fifty nest sites in the lower 48 that have been documented and most of them come from Montana and Minnesota," said Larson.

For the past decade researchers have banded more than 60 hawk owls, but have only recaptured one. This leads researchers to conclude that new owls are using the same nesting areas.

"I think that is interesting in its own right that we have banded 60-some individuals and you don't see the same ones ever again, although the same places are used year after year," said Larson.

There are many challenges in banding an uncommon species, but when it comes to banding the chicks the challenge is avoiding the parents.

"These guys are pretty small owls, but they are really, really fierce," said Larson. "These are actually my least favorite owls to handle, just because they are so feisty and so mean and they are a little hard to hold onto and then they are just powerful."

But the researchers persevere. They hope that with ongoing work, they might come to learn more about Montana's unusual owl.

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