Owl expert brings love of nature to Morden

Above, Dr. Jim Duncan of Discover Owls and Rusty (an almost four-year-old long-eared owl) visited the Winkler library on April 4 to talk (and hoot) about owls. (LAUREN MACGILL, Winkler Times)

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Morden had a chance to get up close and personal with a long-eared owl last week during a presentation about the species.

Dr. Jim Duncan with Discover Owls visited Buhler Active Living Centre, Winkler Centennial Library and Morden Library on April 4.

For his presentations in Winkler and Morden, Duncan brought along Rusty. Rusty is an almost four-year-old female long-eared owl.

“She’s comfortable around people because unfortunately she was imprinted as a young bird,” Duncan said. “Someone found her, all owls leave the nest before they fly, they mistook her for an orphaned owlet and raised her so that she became imprinted on people. We can’t let her go, but we can certainly maximize her conservation punch by having her form a relationship, as brief as it is, with people.”

Discover Owls can also still study Rusty’s molt (how often she sheds feathers) and her vocalizations to continue learning about wild owls through her.

Duncan has his Bachelor of Science (Hons), Bachelor of Education in Biology, Master of Science in Zoology and PhD in Zoology. He worked as a biologist for the provincial government for decades, retiring last August.

Discover Owls is a organization that focuses on three pillars: education, research and conservation.

Duncan said he tries to give presentations in a way that creates a personal experience for people.
“What I’ve found interesting is I hear so many interesting stories from people about owls, so I end up learning a lot too,” he said.

One of Discover Owls’ main focuses is on studying live owls by catching, banding and releasing them and monitoring populations and habitats.

Duncan shares that information throughout Canada and sometimes around the world.

“We also created an opportunity for the public to participate in owl biology by conducting owl surveys,” he said. “It’s an additional activity that they can do after the presentations.”

Duncan hopes to spread his excitement about owls and the natural world by traveling and presenting.

“We’ve got some exciting natural history and wildlife right in our own backyards,” Duncan said. “Part of the presentation shows how some owls are well adapted to human landscapes and nest right in our backyards so we don’t even know they’re there. We’re hoping that helps them develop an aptitude to further go out and explore and learn about things in their own areas.”

“Owls are kind of cool,” he added. “They’re kind of a neat way to introduce people to some of the nature in their own areas.”

Manitoba has 11 species of owl, and Canada has around 25. Worldwide, there are about 250 owl species.

“As people are getting better at identifying what constitutes different species, the number of documented species increases slowly,” Duncan said. “It’s a good diversity.”

Left, Dr. Jim Duncan of Discover Owls uses a taxidermied head to show how an owl’s vision works. (LAUREN MACGILL, Winkler Times)

Rusty, Discover Owls ambassador, tracks a stuffed animal to show how far an owl’s neck can swivel. (LAUREN MACGILL, Winkler Times)