I have been hard at work the last little bit trying to wrap up some reports I have due this weekend. Almost done! It will be a relief to wrap up another project (not to mention, get paid for it). However, I did have a chance to go out owling with Blackburnian recently. We didn’t see much, and nothing responded to our attempts at calls. The one bird that was very obliging for us was the above Barred Owl.
Barred Owls are very cooperative birds. While many owls will take off if you approach too close, start making noise, or just generally begin doing weird things like flashing bright lights at them, Barred Owls will often just sit there and observe you. One has to wonder what’s going through their head as they do so. Curiosity? Amusement? This one is from last winter. He does kinda look like he’s laughing at me.
Barred Owls are one of the most frequently heard owls at my parents’ place. They’re often more common than Great Horned Owls, surprisingly. As such, I have a bit of a soft spot for Barred Owls. I love the patterns of their feathers. You can certainly see how they get their name. Their closely related sister species, the Spotted Owl, is an endangered bird of the western old growth forests (and therefore under considerable contention among different groups). Here, the Barred Owl suffers no similar scrutiny, but it has actually been slowly increasing in abundance, likely in part related to the maturation of many forests in the southern part of the province where old fields have returned to forest.
What big, glowing eyes you have. Owls have some amazing adaptations that help them detect and capture their prey. Here you can see the giant eyes that allow them excellent vision in the dark. However, because of the positioning of their ears, with one being higher than the other, owls can actually triangulate using just sound, and can capture prey in pitch blackness. The round facial disc also acts as an acoustic parabola, amplifying sounds and directing them to the ears.
Another adaptation of owls is their ability to fly nearly silently. They have special barbs on the front of their flight feathers which minimize the turbulence of air flowing over the wing. There are two hypotheses of why they have this adaptation. The first, and most obvious, is that it allows them to sneak up on prey better. But hawks also hunt small rodents and don’t require this adaptation. Another hypothesis is that it allows them to hear better, by minimizing the sound of air tumbling over the wings, which is important when sound is such a key hunting tool.
In the above photo you can also just barely see the front talons poking out from the bird’s breast feathers. Barred Owls have massive, powerful feet and talons that allow them to latch onto their prey items when they grab them. In the fall, TTPBRS does Northern Saw-whet Owl banding, and because saw-whets are a prey item of Barred Owls, there’s always the potential to catch one of these big owls in the net. Fortunately, we never have. I say fortunately because, although I would love to have the opportunity to see one of these beautiful birds up close, I have no desire to get anywhere near those feet!