In New York, short-eared owl sighting brings visitors — and reminder to not stress the birds

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service photo

FORT EDWARD, N.Y. — A sighting of a short-eared owl has sent birdwatchers and photographers flocking to the Washington County Grasslands Wildlife Management Area. And the behavior of some overzealous visitors has prompted the DEC to issue a reminder to avoid stressing the birds.

“DEC has recently received a number of reports of individuals purposely flushing roosting short-eared owls in the Washington County Grasslands WMA in order observe and photograph the birds in flight,” the department said in a news release. “While DEC encourages people to enjoy watching wildlife in the Washington County Grasslands WMA and other public lands, we ask that you do so in a way that protects wildlife, especially endangered and threatened species.”

Short-eared owls, listed as an endangered species in New York state, return from their breeding grounds in Canada to spend the winter in the Washington County Grasslands WMA. 

The birds roost on the ground in taller grasses, unlike most owl species and fly from their roosts around dusk each day, putting on an aerial show while foraging for mice and voles.

They are easily disturbed by people walking near their roosting sites. DEC officials said that can cause them to unnecessarily expend energy flying or to abandon their roost site.

DEC is asking to the Washington County Grasslands WMA, and all public lands, to observe several guidelines when wildlife or bird watching:

  • Avoid repeatedly flushing or otherwise purposely disturbing wildlife when watching or photographing them.
  • Never purposely chase wildlife.
  • Keep a respectful distance from nests and young, especially in hot, cold, or windy weather.
  • Stay in your vehicle; it serves as a blind and often allows for closer and longer observations without disturbing wildlife.
  • Stay on existing roads, trails, or pathways to avoid trampling fragile vegetation.
  • Leave the area as you found it.
  • Know and observe the laws, rules, and regulations governing the site.
  • Get prior permission to enter private or posted property.
  • Be considerate of others around you.

Visiting groups of people can often magnify the impact on wildlife, officials said. They ask that groups ensure that all members know and follow the above guidelines.

Purposely disturbing, flushing, or chasing an endangered or threatened species is harassment and is illegal, DEC officials reminded visitors. “If you witness such activity, document it and report it to the DEC Dispatch (877-457-5680),” a news release said.

Categories: Press Releases

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