Barred Owls Everywhere

During the recent Christmas Bird Count, my home count circle tallied 2 barred owls. (Even one sighting of the widespread but uncommon owl is considered lucky in my area). Then, while driving out to Shelburne Point late in the afternoon of New Year's eve, there was another one! This one was large and quite a dark compared to the Quebec barred owls I've seen, and seemed relatively unconcerned by the automobile traffic rushing past his perch. About the size of a cat, the barred owl has dark, ghoulish eyes, a round head without ear tufts, and a yellow beak. Colors range from brownish grey to grey-white, with bars or streaks front and back which give the bird its name. Although only slightly smaller in size than its cousin the great horned owl, it is much lighter (1.5 pounds in weight versus over 3 pounds for the horned owl). The barred owl is a dweller of old growth forests where it creates a cavity nest in dead tree limbs, typically hunting from a perch. It will swoop down through branches and tree trunks to pounce on small rodents or amphibians with amazing speed considering the obstacles and gloom of its habitat. Just after sunset and before dawn are the times of peak hunting activity. Although small mammals (up to the size of a rabbit) are always the largest constituent of the barred owl's diet, reptiles, amphibians. and shellfish are often snatched by this omnivorous predator and birds (as big as a ruffed grouse) are also hunted. While small prey is swallowed whole on the spot, the remains of larger victims are cached in snags or tree branches. The most common evidence of a barred owl presence in your area is its unique, booming call, heard most frequently in early evening or again just before dawn (and particularly at the time of a bright moon). Hooo-hooo-hooh-hoo-hoo. hoo ha ( who cooks for you, who cooks for you all) echoes through the darkness, often augmented with a variety of shrieks and cackles. Easily mimicked, the barred owl is often attracted to even a poor imitation of its call, perhaps hurrying to investigate intruders in its territory. Once located, barred owls can be relied upon to be long-term residents of an area. They are non-migratory and a study of 158 banded and recovered birds showed none to have strayed more than 6 miles from the point of banding. Mating and egg laying of barred owls occurs in March-April in this part of the country. Since this is a time of maximum vocal activity for the owls, step outside near a wooded area and listen for their echoing calls on still nights, particularly if the moon is full. Their numbers may be increasing!

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