The 2017/2018 Montezuma Winter Raptor Survey season is underway.


  1. To determine which habitat types on the Montezuma Wetlands Complex are preferred by wintering Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers.
  2. To determine the impact of habitat restoration and management on wintering Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers.
  3. To document baseline data of the abundance and habitat preferences of all species of wintering raptors.

The 50,000 acres in the Montezuma Wetlands Complex were once an unspoiled oasis for wildlife in all seasons.

Those areas still exist, undeniably altered by humans for their own needs. As the result of mankind’s indiscriminate changes to the landscape, the natural water-flow was disrupted altering native habitats. Reversing the effects of these changes to restore the benefits of wetlands to wildlife and man-kind requires continual management.

In order to attract and hold raptors, the habitat must be managed to provide adequate food and shelter.

In the winter, Montezuma is a source of food and shelter for predator and prey.  Some raptors are present year-round, breeding here, while others, such as the Rough-legged Hawk, Short-eared Owl, and Snowy Owl, migrate from traditional northern breeding territories. During the winter months, Bald Eagles are attracted by the availability of several sources of unfrozen water.

Wetlands and grasslands are surveyed weekly from November through March to determine whether management and restoration efforts in the Complex are providing high quality habitat for wintering raptors.

Volunteers follow a standardized protocol to monitor approximately 20 sites throughout the Complex. Surveys are conducted from one-half hour before sunset to one-half hour after sunset.  The results of surveys indicate preferred feeding locations, the suitability of available habitats, and the effectiveness of habitat management and restoration.  Survey data is provided to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and, the N.Y. State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Two raptor species are this year’s focus.

“Northern Harrier on Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge” by USFWS Mountain-Prairie is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Two raptor species, the Northern Harrier (NOHA), a locally breeding resident, and the Short-eared Owl (SEOW), generally a winter visitor from areas to our north, receive special attention. The SEOW is classified as “endangered” and the NOHA is classified as “threatened” in New York State as the result of the loss of suitable large open habitats due to human encroachment and use.  Monitoring of these species is conducted state-wide in an attempt to protect and improve habitat.

Want to help?

Veteran surveyors are paired up with those who are less experienced to assure we receive accurate data, more eyes are better than two, and also to provide a learning experience. Volunteers gather after completing the survey each night to eliminate any double counting, assure sightings are correctly indicated on maps, and generally enjoy some camaraderie exchanging experiences.  Those who are interested in assisting our survey efforts in the future should contact Linda Ziemba, Wildlife Biologist, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, at 315-568-5987, or linda_ziemba


    1. Sightings are mostly under low light conditions; therefore, developing familiarity with raptor species’ size, shape, and flight characteristics is very useful.
    2. Contact David Marsh at to let him know the dates you will be participating.
    3. Arrive at the Refuge office at the designated time, about one hour and fifteen minutes prior to sunset.
    4. Bring clothing adequate for forecast weather conditions, remembering that at sunset, temperatures drop sharply.
    5. Bring binoculars and a spotting scope (if you have one).
    6. Return to the Refuge office after the survey.
    7. Complete all paperwork (see below) and have it initialed by David Marsh or Refuge staff.
    8. Return all borrowed items.
    9. If you have snowshoes, bring them in the event you will need them to access your survey site.
    10. If you have any questions during the survey, call Linda Ziemba (607-592-1634) or David Marsh (585-880-1992).
    1. Surveyors will be assigned a site the day of the survey.
    2. We will rotate site assignments routinely as needed to obtain desired coverage and to provide surveyors exposure to a variety of locations as the winter survey season proceeds.
    3. Surveyors must remain at the assigned site for the entire one hour of the survey (one- half hour before sunset to one-half hour after sunset). It is acceptable to begin surveying as soon as you arrive at your assigned site, even if it is before one-half hour before sunset and continue surveying slightly past one-half hour after sunset. Owl “emergence” in the afternoon is extremely variable, with birds sometimes not appearing until 10-15 minutes before dark.
  3. VISUAL SEARCH FOR RAPTORS (especially Short-eared Owl and Northern Harrier).
    1. Continually scan 360 degrees for low and high flying raptors.
    2. Check for raptors perched on the ground, on fence posts, on hay bales, in trees, etc.
    3. Listen for flight calls, such as Short-eared Owl calls: a bark-like call or a keee-ow call.
  4. RECORD BASIC INFORMATION: Complete the following information on the survey form:
    1. Observer name(s).
    2. Date.
    3. Site name – from map.
    4. Sunset time, Start time AND Stop time.
    5. Weather conditions (if unknown, leave blank)
    1. RAPTOR SPECIES: For each raptor that you observe, enter its species, one individual bird per line, in the first column. For Northern Harriers, note the sex and age if possible. For Rough-legged Hawks, note the phase – light or dark.  If you cannot identify the bird species, write UNK or as much detail as possible (e.g., UNK Accipiter).
    2. BIRD ID#:  When you observe a raptor, assign that bird a number (1, 2, 3…). Also mark this number on the site map to represent the approximate location of the bird. Continue to indicate the bird’s movements on the site map.
    3. TIME OF INITIAL OBSERVATION: Record the time you first observe the individual bird.
    4. ACTIVITY OBSERVED: Perched, foraging, high flying, feeding, etc. Especially in March and April, note any breeding or nest-building behavior. It is particularly important to indicate if the bird had been roosting, is foraging or feeding, or is flying en route to another location.
    5. NOTES: Include the amount of time that the bird spent at the site. If the bird left the site, note the time and its flight direction. Indicate this flight direction on the map with arrows.  Note whether the bird was seen or only heard. Include any other information that you think might be helpful.
Guide to Wind Speed
Beaufort Wind Codes Wind Speed in mph / Kph
0 Smoke rises vertically <1 / <2
1 Wind direction shown by smoke drift 1-3 / 2-5
2 Wind felt on face; leaves rustle 4-7 / 6-12
3 Leaves, small twigs in constant motion; light flag extended 8-12 / 13-19
4 Raises dust and loose paper; small branches are moved 13-18 / 20-29
5 Small trees in leaf sway; crested wavelets on inland waters 19-24 / 30-38

To Participate

Surveys are conducted weekly on Wednesdays at sunset through March.

Contact David Marsh via email with ‘Raptor Survey’ in the subject line, or fill out the form below.

2017/2018 Winter Raptor Signup