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Love Is In The Air – Barred Owls

Barred Owl. Photo by Arni Stinnissen.

In Spring, a young man’s heart turns to thoughts of love, so they say!   For the Barred owl however, he lives by another line, Why wait for Spring–do it now!

That is exactly what is happening in mixed deciduous and conifer forests, especially in low lying areas in our region right now.  Barred owl couples are busy making a family.   Suitable nesting sites, a vacated hawk, heron or squirrel nest or a suitable cavity in a large tree have been selected as these birds don’t build their own nests.  The female will lay 2-3 white eggs, about the same size as a large chicken egg, and she alone will incubate them for about 30 days.  In March the young will emerge from their eggs.  Both parents will hunt for food, consisting of small mammals, birds and when available, frogs, fish, crayfish and large insects.  As they out-grow the nest, the young will climb on to a nearby branch, bobbing up and down, as if dancing to music, while waiting for the parents to deliver food. First flight is not until they are about six weeks of age.  In the fall, the young birds will be chased out of the territory by the male parent.

Of all birds, owls are perhaps the most difficult to find.  Most owl species are nocturnal and seldom if ever seen during the daylight hours.  Barred owls are often the easiest to find.  They will hunt during daylight, but when they are not hunting, they can be frequently found perched near the trunk of a tree, sitting motionless. Another way to find them is to look around the base of large trees for pellets, the little packages of fur, feathers and bones which are not digestible and owls regurgitate.  Another visual clue to their whereabouts is white-wash on tree limbs and boles-the excrement from the perching birds.

The easiest way to locate a barred owl is by listening for its distinctive call, … Who cooks for you, who cooks for you, all!”

However, the easiest way to locate a barred owl is by listening for its distinctive call, … Who cooks for you, who cooks for you, all!  Males and females will sometimes answer each other and will frequently respond to your call as well! It was over forty years ago when I first heard a pair of Barred owls calling to each other. We had taken our two young boys to the Kortright Centre on a very cold Saturday night in late January for an owl prowl.  As we walked through the dark forest, the interpreter for the evening took us to where a pair of owls were roosting.  The delightful duet we heard that evening was magical and indelibly etched in my mind!

Although their eye sight is 50 to 100 times greater than ours, their keen hearing plays a major role in their search for food.  The hind toes on this bird can swivel around and face forwards like those of an osprey, which enable them to exert great pressure on their prey, often breaking bones and crushing it and offering little if any chance of escape!

Barred owls do not migrate, they are year round residents, so there is plenty of opportunity to see and hear them.  Don’t wait for Spring, Do it now!

Written by David A. Homer.

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