Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Owls of Winter

Becky Swearingen had a big owl winter and shared this story with us.

I was walking Pennsylvania Prairie one evening in late winter. It was about an hour before dusk and I was just standing in the middle of the prairie soaking in the peace and quiet when I looked up and saw a Short-Eared Owl making a beeline for my head. Not wanting to spook it I didn’t even get my camera up to take a picture. Instead I froze in spot thinking “Do I duck?” Fortunately about 10 feet in front of me it veered to my right.

I turned and took what I thought was a parting shot, but the owl turned returned to get a better look at me, flying about 10 feet from me.

I had just read that owls that summer in the far north are often not familiar with people and show less fear than birds that breed in more populated areas. This owl seemed curious about what I was more than concerned. It happened in just a matter of moments and then the owl passed me and continued hunting for its dinner. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, though.

This owl is in a fairly open barn in Southwest Missouri. Two of us were given the opportunity to approach the barn. As we approached, it flushed and flew into a decrepit house also on the site. I slowly approached the house and once again the bird flushed, but this time landed on a branch right above me to check me out.

A month or so later I was out with the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society looking for shorebirds. They were aware of a Barn Owl in the area and decided that for a treat they would show us the location. When Barn Owls are found, their location is kept a closely guarded secret. They are easily disturbed in their nesting locations. They are also the victims of predation, particularly from Great Horned Owls. I had known of one other Barn Owl family that over the course of a couple of months was completely decimated. We found the remains of Barn Owls in the area and can only assume they were victims of Great Horned Owl predation.

I shot as many pictures as I could until it flew back to its barn roost. We heard that there was possibly a second Barn Owl close by, so we have hopes of a new family of Barn Owls taking up residence. Barn Owls breed year-round and can have owlets of different ages in their roost at the same time.

This time of year, it also a good idea to look at all the old hawk’s nest around. That is one area that Great Horned Owls will nest in. This nest is from this spring in Dade County.

Great Horned Owl and owlet snuggling together at Lake Springfield
--> Finally, as winter is winding down and spring is making its slow progress, it is time for the owls who winter here, like the Short-Eared Owls, to move back to their breeding grounds. As dusk approaches, though, keep your eyes peeled for those owls. It is a treat when you get a close encounter of the owl kind.

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