A little feather tells a big story

With a whopping wingspan of +1.5m the Powerful Owl, Australia’s largest threatened owl, is powerful by name and nature. However the BirdLife Australia Powerful Owl Project is using some of its smallest features, feathers, to understand more about the population in the Greater Sydney region.

Maintaining a successful breeding population of Powerful Owls in the urban Sydney Basin is important not only as success story for a threatened species, but particularly because the loss of 1/3 of all Powerful Owl habitat in the 2019-20 fires means urban populations of owls may now represent a potential source to help fire-effected areas recover.

Life in the city can be hard for Powerful Owls. They face the loss of breeding and roost trees, competition for tree hollows, car strike, electrocution and developing threats like changing night lighting. Powerful Owls are strongly associated with creeks and waterways and use these to move through the landscape in urban areas. Genetic diversity, which keeps populations of an animals healthy, can only be maintained by movement within populations. As the urban envelope expands and we lose or fragment our urban bushlands, movement for owls becomes harder, and often young owls end up in trouble as they try to move away from home to find a place of their own to grow. This is where a simple feather comes in.

Through the generous support of of the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife, the Powerful Owl Project is using shed feathers and those collected from dead Powerful Owls to identify how closely owls are related in the urban population. This in turn, will help us identify where wildlife corridors for large owls exist and where we need to put our efforts into building these. This work will also give us insight into how important urban owl territories are as dispersal points, by identifying how young owls are using forested space within urban areas. Such great information we can gather from a feather we can pick up from the ground!

Please remember: all native fauna are protected by law. The definition of protected fauna in the National Parks and Wildlife Act includes eggs, skin, feathers and any other body part. A person who buys, sells or possesses parts of a protected species without an appropriate authority is committing an offence. This provision enables the National Parks and Wildlife Service to regulate the trade in native animal products. You need a scientific licence to collect any feathers.

The Powerful Owl Project has a scientific licence allowing us to collect feathers and now is the time to collect them as the winter feathers are moulted and new set grow in for summer. If you are hearing Powerful Owls near your place, please let us know and we can come and search for feathers. If you find a Powerful Owl feather on the ground, you can put it in a paper bag and notify powerfulowl@birdlife.org.au – please keep note of where and when you found it. If you aren’t sure whose feather is whose please email in a picture and we may be able to help. Powerful Owl feathers are barred with browns and white, and often bear the chevron distinctive of this species centred on the middle spine of the feather






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