Boreal Owls nesting in Northern New Brunswick? Part Two

Boreal Owls nesting in Northern New Brunswick?  Part Two

By Rod O’Connell


Here is a quote from the First Atlas: "Boreal Owls are active only at night, and they call early in the spring when few observers are afield, so they are easily missed…”


I completely agree with this statement.  To further expand on this I will use information from the First Atlas compared to the Second Atlas.  But to prove the point, I will not base it on the Boreal Owl but will use the information on the Barred Owl.  In the First Atlas, the Region 5 had no information on breeding evidence for Barred Owls. No Barred Owls were recorded in this region.  (See map below)

For the Second Atlas, the Barred Owl was noted in Region 5 as a regionally rare species and a Rare/Colonial Species Report Form had to be completed and submitted.

I became addicted to going out during the night to locate owls.  To my surprise, in about all the squares I visited on these night outings, I would locate Barred Owls.  The Barred Owl is easily located on a Nocturnal Owl Survey since they response readily to a recorded call.

I have no information on the efforts made during the First Atlas to locate Barred Owls in Region 5. If you look at Region 4, we have similar results between the First and Second Atlas.  Although I cannot speak for Roy LaPointe, it does look like Roy made a greater effort to locate owls in Region 4 for the Second Atlas as compared to the efforts made for the First Atlas.

So back to the Boreal Owl and the quote from the First Atlas – "Boreal Owls are active only at night, and they call early in the spring when few observers are afield, so they are easily missed…”

If Barred Owls were missed in the First Atlas owing to few observers in the Region 4 and 5, it is more than probable that the same can be said for Boreal Owls which are more difficult to locate.

So, are Boreal Owls nesting in Northern New Brunswick?  I would say yes! For that matter, they may be nesting in the whole of New Brunswick in appropriate nesting areas.

Here is my English translation from parts a report by Hilaire Chiasson in "Le Gobemouche, Vol 19 No. 1 Page 4-5" entitled «Nidification de la Nyctale de Tengmalm à Pointe-Alexandre sur l’Ile Lamèque en 2005 (Aegoelus funereus)»

"So it is with the aid of a mirror and a flashlight in the evening of April 9, 2005, we saw two eggs of a creamy white… My visit on the 30th of May I saw an owlet and an egg…On June 20, we could see an owlet occupying the cavity opening. It did not seem long before it could take flight… The owlet was still at the cavity opening on my visit of June 27th. This will be its last night in the cavity as during my visit the next day, the nest was empty."

A telephone conversation with Frank Branch from Trudel on January 17th, 2013 – "The evening of July 7th 2005, I was with Hilaire when we saw the owlet for the last time, from 9 PM to midnight."

In Roger Burrows’ book "Birding in New Brunswick," published by Goose Lane 2010, he indicates that Miscou Island has the occasional breeding Boreal Owl but gives no further details.  He, however, indicates that Boreal Owls are noted in a variety of locations across the province.

Why are there many reports of Boreal Owls in the Acadian Peninsula the during the First Atlas surveys and continuing reports up 2005 and then suddenly no more reports of Boreal Owls during the Second Atlas surveys.

Referring back to my telephone conversations with Frank Branch; "We are only a small group of birders in the area and we have not done extensive surveys during the Second Atlas surveys."  The main persons, who did many surveys during the preceding years, where no longer doing the surveys for Boreal Owls.

Boreal Owls are probably now hooting under the dense cover of a New Brunswick forest.  Any hardy souls ready to scrutinize these remote dense forested areas? There may be a chance to get a glimpse of what Burrows noted in his book "Birds of Atlantic Canada" published by Lone Pine 2002 as "the top five of the most desired species to see..."  Good luck!



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Tags: Boreal, Brunswick, New, Owl, nesting, northern


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Comment by Joyce Morrell on May 2, 2015 at 3:14pm

Aren't mysteries fun!

Comment by Rod O'Connell on May 2, 2015 at 12:30pm

Joyce, I doubt very much that the sound you heard was the tooting song of the northern pygmy-owl and "Seton’s description of the song, down to the very “ting, ting, ting “of it" was very likely misidentified.  Therefore, in New Brunswick, the closes sound to what Seton described would be the tooting song of the Northern Saw-whet Owl.  Do calls change over the years – I doubt it very much, but the description of the call by different people sure changes over the years.  That is why the recorded sound of the bird is more reliable.  This also could be misleading since Soren Bondrup-Neilsen (A Sound Like Water Dripping) ran into that problem by using a recorded call of the Northern Saw-whet which was wrongly labeled as the call of the Boreal Owl!

Comment by Joyce Morrell on May 2, 2015 at 9:32am

The Boreal Bells article is a perfect description of the sound I heard, regardless of the bird it came from. Do some calls change over the years?

Comment by Joanne Savage on April 22, 2015 at 8:28am

Rod, you surely do find some very interesting articles. Thank you for sharing these and your experiences.

Comment by Rod O'Connell on April 21, 2015 at 11:10pm

I came across an interesting post on Birding New Jersey regarding the call of the Boreal Owl.

Comment by Rod O'Connell on April 20, 2015 at 3:11pm

Right on Joyce! That is the sound of the Boreal Owl.

Denis - J'espère que je peux avoir d'autre information sur la Chouette de Tengmalm. J'ai l'intention d'examiner ces endroits dans un mois ou deux pour voir si je peux localiser un nid. 

I hope that I can come up with more information on the Boreal Owl.  I plan to scrutinize these areas in the month or so to see if I can locate a nest.

Comment by Joyce Morrell on April 20, 2015 at 12:38pm

Then this sound is the boreal owl? 

Comment by Denis A. Doucet on April 20, 2015 at 9:41am

Rod, that is excellent! Info très intéressante. Merci de l'avoir partagée, encore une fois :)

Comment by Rod O'Connell on April 19, 2015 at 6:17pm

The book, "A Sound Like Water Dripping; In search of the Boreal Owl" by Soren Bondrup-Neilsen, is a pleasant read. I received the book yesterday and by bedtime, I had finished reading the book.
Towards the end of the book, page 220-221, Bondrup-Neilsen writes about the call of the Saw-whet Owl and that of the Boreal Owl. "The Boreal Owl had distinct phrases, groups of notes given in succession with pauses between the groups. The Saw-whet Owl had single notes more drawn out and without distinct groupings. If all you heard was a single note it would indeed be difficult to tell the two species apart. Then I thought about the sound of water dripping. When a drop of water hits the surface of a puddle it gives a short plop-like sound, not a drawn-out sound, something like a single note from the Boreal Owl. But the Boreal Owl's call is several notes in fairly rapid succession, and when I think of a tap dripping there is usually a lengthy pause between drops falling. But in a steady stream of plop-like sounds I suppose one can imagine the call of the Boreal Owl."
From Bondrup-Neilsen's description of the two calls, I would tend to go with the Saw-whet Owl as "A Sound Like Water Dripping" and not the Boreal Owl call.
What Karl & I heard on April 8, 2015 (Boreal Owl call) and on April 12, 2015 (Northern Saw-whet Owl call), there is no doubt in our mind that the call of the Northern Saw-whet Owl is more liken to "A Sound Like Water Dripping" than that of the call of the Boreal Owl. We do agree with Bondrup-Neilsen that "If all you heard was a single note it would indeed be difficult to tell the two species apart."
Thinking back about last year's (2014) owl surveys, now I am wondering if the call we heard at Stop # 7 on Route NB041 (April 7, 2014) was not that of a Boreal Owl and a Saw-whet Owl. In my notes, I describe the Stop # 7 as such: "This may be the same owl moving to the south side of the road. It gave three series of alarm hoots before toots." Did we hear two different owls, one a Boreal and the other a Saw-whet and not two Saw-whets?
Back to Bondrup-Neilsen's book on Page 220, we have this comment: "Then some distance away, no more than twice the distance the first call had come from, I heard what sounded like a Boreal Owl calling very slowly—long drawn-out notes with no distinct sequence. I looked at Margaret, who looked puzzled. When I looked at Bob he was smiling. Then it hit me. "That's a Saw-whet Owl," I exclaimed. "You got it!" he said. Bob had been out here the night before and had discovered the nest of a Saw-whet Owl less than fifty metres from the Boreal Owl nest. How he could have kept the secret I don't know, but what an amazing surprise. I had never heard the call of the Saw-whet Owl."

From Bondrup-Neilsen's comment it sure seems possible that both a Boreal Owl and a Saw-whet Owl were calling very close to each other at Stop # 7.

Comment by Rod O'Connell on April 15, 2015 at 8:14am

I found the origin of the Montagnais legend in a book entitled “Life and Sport on the North Shore of the Lower St. Lawrence and the Gulf” by Napoleon Alexander Comeau and published in 1909.  The actual quotation from the book reads as follows:

"Page 423

64. Nyetala tengmalmi Richardsoni.—RICHARDSON'S OWL.—A common winter resident and very tame. This owl has a low liquid note that resembles the sound produced by water slowly dropping from a height, hence the Montagnais Indians called it pillip-pile thish, which means "water-dripping bird. These Indians have a legend that this was at one time the largest owl in the world and that it had a very loud voice. It one day perched itself near a large water-fall and tried not only to imitate the sound of the fall, but also to drown the roaring of the torrent in its own voice. At this the great Spirit was offended and transformed it into a pigmy, causing its voice to resemble slowly dripping water instead of the mighty roar of a cataract."

Comeau comes from the Baie Comeau and Godbout region of the North Shore of the St. Lawrence River.  As I suspected, the range of the Boreal Owl and that of the Northern Saw-whet overlap, and both are located in part of the Montagnais Territory where Comeau lived.  It is more than likely that the legend refers to the Northern Saw-whet Owl and not the Boreal Owl.  Of the two small owls, the Northern Saw-whet is the smaller of the two.

If we search on the internet for "Montagnais legend owl," many websites will now refer to the owl in the legend as a saw-whet owl. So I guess that we are not the only ones to think that the legend is based on the call of the saw-whet owl.


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