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Speakers & Topics
(in alphabetical order)

Dr. James R. Duncan
Manager of Biodiversity Conservation, Manitoba Conservation
Winnipeg, Manitoba 

The Ecology of Manitoba’s Great Gray Owls - The Phantom of the Northern Forest 

Jim Duncan and his colleagues have dedicated a large part of their lives to studying Manitoba’s provincial bird emblem, the Great Gray Owl.  Jim’s presentation will lead us through a journey of discovery that covered hundreds of kilometers of boreal forest, has spanned over 30 years of research, and has included thousands of encounters with this elusive phantom of the northern forest.  Information on habitat use, forest management, nesting ecology, breeding dispersal, prey use and availability, and population dynamics will be discussed.  This presentation provides a base of knowledge that may help us learn more from the dramatic winter 2004-05 appearance of great gray owls in Minnesota. 

Jim Duncan, born in Montréal, Québec, obtained a Ph.D. in 1992 from the University of Manitoba for research on the Great Gray Owl.  He worked for the Manitoba Conservation Data Centre, Wildlife Branch, as a zoologist from 1994 to 1999.  In 1999 took on the role of Manager of the Biodiversity Conservation Section of the Wildlife Branch, and now participates in local, national and international biodiversity conservation initiatives including species at risk.

Jim claims that his job is simply a way to support his obsessive habit of studying owls with zoologist wife, Patsy.  Together with their associates, Bob Nero and Herb Copland, they have banded over 1,500 Great Gray Owls.


Michael Furtman
Professional Photographer and Author
Duluth, Minnesota 

The Owl Invasion -- A Photographer’s View 

Mr. Furtman spent much of the winter of 2004-05 photographing Great Gray Owls and Northern Hawk Owls.  His photos capture the beauty and mystique of these incredible animals. 

Michael Furtman has been a full time freelance nature writer and photographer for 23 years. He is the author of 17 books and hundreds of magazine articles. Furtman’s photographs appear regularly in regional and national publications, and he has won many national and international awards for his writing and photography. His work can be viewed at


David Grosshuesch
Owl Monitoring Coordinator, Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory
Duluth, Minnesota 

A Comprehensive Biological View of Great Gray Owls found during the 2004-2005 Winter Irruption 

Although Great Gray Owls (Strix nebulosa) have previously irrupted into Minnesota in large numbers, the 2004-2005 winter irruption will, no doubt, be one of the most memorable irruptions of all time.  Despite the extensive historical knowledge base surrounding such events, the amount of data collected (i.e. winter counts and distribution, migration observations, mortality information, banding effort, etc.) during this single irruption far exceeds anything documented to date.  Of particular interest is the age and sex ratios of Great Gray Owls found throughout the winter, and whether or not the age and sex ratio was skewed towards a particular age or sex group.  Also of interest is the overall body condition of living birds, which seemingly may have degraded over time given the large number of birds competing for a limited resource.  The large number of dead Great Gray Owls collected throughout the winter may help to determine some of the causal factors associated with mortality.  Finally, the large number of Great Gray Owls banded during this irruption may help to better understand movement patterns when such an event occurs. 

Dave received his B.S. degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1994 and is currently a Graduate Student (for M.S. degree) at the Univ. of MN-Duluth.  He is the Owl Monitoring Coordinator, as well as the Director of Passerine Research for Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth, Minnesota.  Dave has been conducting avian research for over 10 years, both as a vocation and an avocation.  His wide range of experiences gives him a unique perspective on avian research methodology and analysis. 


Carrol Henderson
Supervisor, Nongame Wildlife Program,
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Blaine, Minnesota 

Ecotourism of Owls

Wildlife tourism becomes more important to Minnesota's economy with each passing year, and the abundant wildlife and natural habitats throughout the state provide lasting memories for both residents and visitors from around the world.  Among the featured species that have generated national attention over the past year are the owls that can be seen in northern Minnesota. The great irruption of 2004-2005 provided thousands of people with great memories and photos of owls throughout the winter. This presentation will treat this owl-watching phenomenon and discuss the dimensions of how wildlife tourism can help local communities and benefit wildlife populations by sensitizing the public to the presence and beauty of our wildlife populations.


Carrol Henderson has been supervisor of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources- Nongame Wildlife Program since 1977. He has a B.S. in zoology from Iowa State University (1968), and a Master of Forest Resources degree from the University of Georgia (1970).   He has been involved in restoring peregrine falcons, bald eagles, eastern bluebirds, river otters and trumpeter swans in Minnesota. Henderson is the author of six books. He has written Woodworking for Wildlife, Landscaping for Wildlife, and Wild About Birds: the DNR Bird Feeding Guide. He is co-author of The Traveler’s Guide to Wildlife in Minnesota and Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality. His latest book is the Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica, which was published by the University of Texas Press in 2002.  Carrol and his wife Ethelle have a special interest in gardening and landscaping for wildlife.  They have developed their backyard in Blaine, Minnesota, with plantings of trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and water features for wildlife since they first moved there in 1977.


Jim Lind
Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth
Duluth, Minnesota 

Habitat and landscape distributions of Great Gray and Northern Hawk Owls in northern Minnesota during the winter of 2004/2005 

The largest recorded influx of Great Gray Owls and Northern Hawk Owls in Minnesota occurred during the winter of 2004/2005.  The landscape use of these two species during winter invasions in Minnesota is poorly understood.  Detailed owl locations were collected by many observers across the state, including sightings from standardized roadside surveys conducted from December to March in the northern counties.  I will summarize habitat and landscape characteristics in buffers surrounding Great Gray Owl and Northern Hawk Owl sightings within Ecological Classification System (ECS) subsections of northern Minnesota, using remotely-sensed land cover data. 

Jim Lind is a research biologist at the Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth.  He is an active member of the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union, serving as a seasonal reports compiler, records committee member, and the Duluth RBA editor.  He is also a member of the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory board of directors.  He has a masters’ degree in Wildlife Biology from Louisiana State University, and undergraduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Vermilion Community College.  Jim is a native of Two Harbors, Minnesota, where he lives with his wife, Sharon. 


Dr. Robert W. Nero
Volunteer Ecologist, Manitoba Conservation
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Opening Comments:  Growing Old Together -- Inspired by Great Gray Owls


Naturalist, ornithologist, avocational archaeologist, poet and a well-known scientist and educator with numerous natural history publications to his credit, Robert W. Nero is perhaps best known for his pioneering research on the Great Gray Owl.  His book “The Great Gray Owl: Phantom of the Northern Forest”, published by the Smithsonian Institution, was described by Katherine McKeever as “… so lyrical it is almost poetry ….”  Recent collections of his poetry included Woman By The Shore (1990), The Mulch Pile (1993) and Spring Again (1997) which firmly established Bob Nero’s standing in the field of poetry. Several creditable poems also appeared in a well-received book about his travels with a tame Great Gray Owl: Lady Grayl: Owl With a Mission (1994). Even a recent account of his archaeological exploits: The Site: A Personal Odyssey (2001), contains some appropriate poetry.  His newest poetry book, Growing Old Together, is published by Natural Heritage/Natural History Inc.


Frank J. Nicoletti
Raptor Counter, Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory
Duluth, Minnesota 

Northern Hawk Owls in Minnesota during Winter 2004-2005:  Results from a Banding Perspective
Authors: Frank J. Nicoletti, Ryan Brady and David Alexander

A record-high number of Northern Hawk Owls (Surnia ulula) were recorded in Minnesota during winter 2004-2005.  Despite historical knowledge surrounding such incursions, the amount of data collected during this irruption far exceeded any efforts documented to date.  Perhaps most unique was the high number of hawk owls banded – unquestionably the most ever banded in Minnesota and among the most banded anywhere during a single irruption.  In this paper, we summarize findings from this unprecedented banding effort by discussing the distribution, age ratio, morphometrics, molt, and body condition of 148 banded Hawk Owls.  In addition, we present data on movement distances and mass changes of 24 Hawk Owls recaptured later in the season.

Frank J. Nicoletti is a raptor enthusiast and contractor who has been studying various aspects of raptor ecology for 22 years at various locations, including Cape May, NJ, Braddock Bay, NY and for the past 15 years at Hawk Ridge.  Frank makes his home in Duluth, Minnesota.

Ryan Brady has a B.S. in Biology from Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin (his current hometown), and an M.S. in Raptor Biology from Idaho’s Boise State University.  Over the last 12 years, he has participated in various avian research projects in Pennsylvania, Idaho, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, most recently as an assistant hawk counter at Hawk Ridge in autumn 2005.  

David Alexander has a B.A. in Physics from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota and an M.D. from Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Texas. He has a longstanding interest in birds and a recent passion for helping out on owl research projects.


Andy Paulios                                                 Bruce Bacon
Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative                Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
(WBCI) Coordinator                                          Mercer, Wisconsin
WDNR - Wildlife Management
Madison, Wisconsin 

The Northern Owl Invasion in Wisconsin 2004
Authors: Andy Paulios and Bruce Bacon

Andy and Bruce will compare the 2004/05 owl invasion in Wisconsin to the timing and numbers of the corresponding invasion in Minnesota.  Bruce will give an overview of his observation of owl movements while banding owls.


Andy is the coordinator of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative (WBCI) for the Wisconsin DNR.  He's been birding since he was a little kid growing up in Rochester, MN and is motivated by all things with feathers.  Despite thousands of hours of owling in northern Wisconsin he has never heard a Great Gray or Boreal Owl and has never had them deliver him the mail either.


Bruce Bacon has been a Wildlife Biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources at Mercer, WI since 1993. He has worked for the WDNR for over 28 years. He has been banding birds for 23 years. He received a BS in Wildlife Management & Biology from UW Stevens Point in 1977.  Bruce has been "chasing owls" whenever the opportunity allows, since the mid-1980s.



Mark Peck                                Colin Jones
Department of Natural History      Ontario Natural Heritage Information Centre

Royal Ontario Museum               Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources

Toronto, Ontario

The Ontario Great Gray Owl Irruption of 2004-05
Authors: Colin Jones, Mark Peck, Glenn Murphy, Ron Pittaway and Jean Iron


In the fall of 2004 and the first half of 2005, Great Gray Owls (Strix nebulosa) moved into southern environs in record numbers. It was undoubtedly one of the largest irruptions ever recorded within Ontario. Great Gray Owls were first documented in September in northern Ontario, and continued their southward movement, concentrating in several sites throughout southern Ontario by early 2005.   This presentation summarizes the number of owls involved in the Ontario irruption, the timing of movements in various areas, and the main distribution of over-wintering birds.  During the winter great grays were injured, accidentally killed, mounted, prepared as specimens and banded.  Valuable information was collected during each process and provided us a unique opportunity to investigate mortality, sex, molt and age in over 500 owls.  Information obtained from the irruption is being used to describe how to distinguish two broad age classes, adult and first year, in the field.  Variation in plumages and molts, subspecies, morphs, albinism, melanism, and male/female identification is also discussed. 


The documentation of the Ontario Great Gray Owl irruption was made possible through the assistance and collaboration of amateur and professional biologists throughout the province.  Colin Jones is a zoologist, with the Ontario Natural Heritage Information Centre, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.  Mark Peck and Glenn Murphy are technicians in Ornithology, Department of Natural History, Royal Ontario Museum.  Ron Pittaway is co-editor of Ontario Birds and Jean Iron is editor of OFO News, publications of the Ontario Field Ornithologists. 


Jim Sanders
Forest Supervisor, Superior National Forest
Duluth, Minnesota 

The management of public lands, especially National Forest lands, has been and will continue to be a hotly contested and debated topic especially when one focuses on “your special interest”.  Given the management objectives identified by Congress through the 189 Federal laws directing management of a National Forest, how then does the Superior National Forest address the requirement to: “maintain or improve biological diversity at the genetic, species, and ecosystem levels and maintain viable populations of existing native and desired non-native species well-distributed within their range on the Superior National Forest”?  The recently completed Forest Plan for the Superior utilizes a coarse to fine filter approach to establish the management direction necessary to meet this broad yet specific objective.  The coarse filter maintains an array of environmental conditions that represent ecosystems to provide habitat for as many species as possible.  When the coarse filter is inadequate to achieve desired conditions then management direction specific to individual species is put in place, the fine filter.  The desired conditions and habitat goals for the seven species of owls known to occupy the Superior National Forest are addressed through this coarse to fine filter management approach.  Monitoring, adaptive management and research will continue to assist managers in refining approaches to maintain owls and other species well-distributed within their range in northern Minnesota.

Jim has approximately 33 years with the USDA Forest Service, 18 years at various field locations in Montana, Washington & Idaho; six years in the National Headquarters Office in Washington DC, and the past eight years as Forest Supervisor of the Superior National Forest.  He received a BS in Forestry from the University of Montana, and completed post-graduate work in Forest Ecology and Silviculture from the University of Montana, University of Idaho and Washington State University.  Currently, Jim is Forest Supervisor for the Superior National Forest, headquartered in Duluth, MN.  The Superior is comprised of three million acres, one million being within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  There are five Ranger Districts on the Superior, located at Ely, Grand Marias, Tofte, Aurora and Cook, Minnesota. 


Pertti Saurola
Professor, Researcher
Finnish Museum of Natural History 
University of Helsinki, Finland

Movements of Owls in Northern Europe 

Of ten species of owls breeding in northern Europe, three generalist feeders, the Eagle Owl, Ural Owl and Tawny Owl, are year-round residents. The European Pygmy Owl is a generalist as well, but performs in some years long-distance invasive movements. The Snowy Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Great Gray Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl and Boreal Owl are vole specialists and, in northern Europe, at least partly nomadic species changing their breeding area according to the phase of the three to five year vole cycle. In general, fidelity to the natal and/or breeding site is stronger in males than in females and in adults than in juveniles. Extensive banding programs of owls in Fennoscandia have produced crucial data for studying the biology of owls – including their movements. 

Pertti Saurola is a professional ecologist, who worked in 1963–1973 as an Assistant Lecturer at the Department of Ecology and Morphology, University of Helsinki and in 1974–2001 as the Head of the Finnish Bird Banding Scheme, Finnish Museum of Natural History. From the beginning of 2002, he has continued as a retired researcher at the same Museum. Pertti Saurola has published more than 200 scientific articles, mainly both on the ecology of diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey and on the results of bird banding in general. During 1981–1995, prof. Saurola was the President of EURING, European Union of Bird Banding and, since 1982, the delegate of Finland in the IOC, International Ornithological Committee.


Norman Smith
Director, Massachusetts Audubon
Blue Hills Trailside Museum / Chickatawbut Hill Education Center
ilton, Massachusetts

Wintering Snowy Owls at Logan International Airport


Since 1981 Norman Smith has been trapping, banding, color marking and observing wintering snowy owls in every imaginable weather condition at Logan Airport in East Boston, Massachusetts. Observations of roosting, hunting and intraspecific interactions have been recorded. In January 2000 PTT’s were attached to three snowy owls to track their movements. This presentation will focus on what has been learned from the many observations that have been made on wintering snowy owls to date, what questions remain and how this project developed into the study of another owl species in Massachusetts.


Norman Smith is a self taught naturalist who has worked for Massachusetts Audubon since 1974. His current position is Director of the Blue Hills Trailside Museum and also the Chickatawbut Hill Education Center. He has been exploring the world of raptors for over 30 years.


Peder Svingen
Duluth, Minnestoa

Owls: What Happened in Minnesota, 2004-2005

Record-high numbers of Northern Hawk, Great Gray, and Boreal owls were found in Minnesota during the 2004–2005 irruption. The total of number of Great Gray Owls was more than 13 times the previous record of 394 in 2000–2001. Four hawk owls and dozens of great grays reached southern Minnesota. Fifteen hawk owls and hundreds of great grays were found injured or dead. Randomized owl surveys conducted by volunteers at monthly intervals provided insights into the prevalence and distribution of owls during a major irruption. Banding data for all three species were integrated with observer reports to provide the clearest picture thus far of a major irruption of northern owls in Minnesota.

Peder Svingen is the Western Great Lakes regional coeditor for North American Birds and associate editor for seasonal reports in The Loon, a quarterly journal on the birds of Minnesota. He currently chairs the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union Records Committee and has written numerous articles and notes on Minnesota birds for The Loon. In his spare time, he works as a physician at the Duluth Clinic.


David Willard
Collection Manager, Field Museum of Natural History
Chicago, Illinois 

An Analysis of the Diet of Great Grays During the 2004-2005 Invasion
Authors: David Willard and Tom Gnoske 

More than 650 of the owls that were found dead during the 2004-05 invasion were transported to the Field Museum, where Dave and Tom analyzed their stomach contents.  Because of the large sample size, they can make comparisons between the sexes, and explore whether there were dietary differences over the seven months of the sample or across the wide expanse of Minnesota where the birds were found.  They will also compare diets in this invasion to results gathered from the 1995-1996 invasion.

Dave is the Collection Manager of the Bird Division at the Field Museum of Natural History where he has worked for 28 years.  He received his BA in biology from Carleton College in 1968 and Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1975.

Tom Gnoske is Assistant Collection Manager, and has worked at the museum for 15 years.


Steve Wilson
Forest Ecologist, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Tower, Minnesota 

Night Moves: The Boreal Owl Irruption of 2004-2005 

Boreal owls periodically appear, or irrupt, in large numbers during Minnesota winters, as happened in the winter of 2004-05. Numbers of boreal owl reports approached those of the largest previous irruptions, but paled in comparison to reports of Northern hawk-owls, and especially great gray owls, which both irrupted in record numbers. This talk documents the numbers, extent, lethality, and age and sex structure of last winter’s boreal owl irruption, and compares them to previous Minnesota boreal owl irruptions. It also explores why the apparent differences in magnitude and lethality between the three species’ irruptions may be more illusory than real. 

Mr. Wilson is a forest ecologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Tower, Minnesota.  With the help of countless contributors, he has made a hobby of documenting the last five Minnesota Boreal Owl irruptions, going back to the winter of 1988-89. Steve received a BS in ecology from the University of Minnesota, where he never imagined a lifelong interest in birds would result in a strong positive correlation between small mammal populations and the amount of his spare time."

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