The Powerful Owl Project

25 March 2014

The Powerful Owl Project is now in its second year on the Central Coast and Newcastle and fourth year in Sydney. 56 fantastic volunteers from the Central Coast & Newcastle area joined the project last year to monitor Powerful Owl breeding across 23 urban sites in the region.

The Powerful Owl Project is now in its second year on the Central Coast and Newcastle and fourth year in Sydney. 56 fantastic volunteers from the Central Coast & Newcastle area joined the project last year to monitor Powerful Owl breeding across 23 urban sites in the region.

It was really the first year bringing the full project to the Central Coast and Newcastle area. The first year is always a bit of a trial and only four successful breeding territories were confirmed, although many more are presumed. Of these, three nest trees were identified and six chicks successfully fledged. Another six territories were identified with owls regularly, although no breeding evidence was recorded. It is unknown whether owls in these territories are just 'floaters', pairs that didn't breed or we just missed the evidence. The reason for the low numbers of owls here is likely more a function of survey effort and observer experience rather than reflecting a low number of owls in this area.

Some interesting observations have been reported by volunteers. Powerful Owls have been seen eating a high number of birds this year along with their usual diet of possums, including Rainbow Lorikeet, Currawong, Kookaburra, Magpie, Channel-billed Cuckoo and even a Noisy Miner.

Car strikes continue to be a major threat to Powerful Owls in the urban area. From data supplied by WIRES, Taronga Zoo, AWCN and local vets, there have been 22 fatal car strikes since March 2012 in Sydney, with all owls being in adult plumage, approximately 7% to 12% of the population each year. A statistic requiring some focused management actions. There was once incident near the intersection of George Booth Drive and the F1, presumed to result in the failure of the local breeding pair.

The project has been working on education with communities and land managers with community talks, media articles and interviews, management guidelines and even filming for an episode of the TV series 'Bushwacked' on ABC3 and partnering up for a big environmental education program with schools in the northern suburbs of Sydney.

Ongoing research has been progressing too with two final year university students working on major projects with us. Grant Lubyckij from University of Western Sydney working on the vegetation characteristics and prey density of urban Powerful Owl habitat in Sydney. Julia Murphy from Sydney University has been analysing pellets and comparing diets to previous data collected over 10 years ago and also looking at seasonal dietary changes. In addition, Fiona Hogan from Monash University has been extracting DNA from feathers collected throughout the project and we are currently looking for a student with Margaret Andrew from Murdoch University to work on a spatial modelling project for Ringtail Possum habitat in Sydney, potentially a good surrogate for Powerful Owl occurrence.

Monitoring will happen again this year from April to October building on the good work achieved last season. All past volunteers and new volunteers are welcomed as are random sightings from the public. We will be running a volunteer training workshop on the 13th April in Lake Macquarie. To find out more or to submit a sighting (please include an accurate location, date and anything interesting) please go to our website: http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/Powerful-Owl-Project or email us directly at powerfulowl@birdlife.org.au.

Dr David Bain

Powerful owl Project Officer

BirdLife Australia

Contact: Belinda Mcnab
Contact Phone: 0249215700