Voice Software Helps Study of Rare Yosemite Owls


The unique Great Gray Owls of Yosemite, left to evolve after glacial ice separated them from their plentiful Canadian brethren 30 millennia ago, are both a mystery and concern to the scientists charged with protecting them.

So this summer, researchers found a way to abandon their traditional heavy-handed trapping, banding and the blasting of owl calls in favor of the kind of discrete, sophisticated technology used by spies and forensic scientists.

They hope to lessen human influence on this subspecies of owls prized for the potential insights their survival offers into habitat-specific evolution.

Medley placed 40 data-compression digital audio recorders around the mid-elevation meadows typically favored by the owl known as Strix nebulosa Yosemitensis, hoping to identify them by their mating, feeding and territorial calls.

Most of the world's Great Gray Owls make their homes in northern hemisphere boreal forests, though a few live as far south as Oregon and Idaho. The giants with piercing yellow eyes and 5-foot wingspans have adapted so well to snow that they can dive face-first through up to a foot of it to catch the voles they hear creeping underneath.

Those owls, now numbering just a couple of hundred, are on California's endangered species list. The giant condors, once nearly extinct, number around 400 in California and the Southwest, and are on the federal endangered list.



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