Do you know how awesome owls are?! Not only are they fierce predators with great hearing, but they also have unique personalities and can make interesting sounds. Owls can also be superheroes, such as the hooded owl, which attacks enemies with arrow-like talons (Owliver Queen). I’ve had the privilege of working with several species of owls and enjoyed every minute of it! Well, except the time that Carmelita scratched me. Anyway, I’m here to share insights into the world of owls and show a few pictures!
Barred Owls are quite common across much of the eastern and central regions of the U.S. Their call has been described as sounding like a gruff hooting “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all!” Because they often use old forests near human-modified landscapes such as roads, Barred Owls tend to be seen more than other members of the owl world. I’ve actually seen several Barred Owls active during the day, fishing around ponds or moving through a forest. Unfortunately, they sometimes accidentally collide with cars at night during the mating season. When I was interning at the World Bird Sanctuary in Missouri, Barred Owls were one of the most common raptors admitted to the wildlife hospital. I had the opportunity to help care for owls with injuries and even held a few of them that needed to be fed food with tweezers. Being able to help rehabilitate Barred Owls was a good experience, and I still remember how some of the owls would look up at me with their big eyes as they were being fed. Sometimes owls that were not able to be released back into the wild were kept and trained as educational birds.
Injured Barred Owl that I helped care for at the World Bird Sanctuary.
Screech Owls are some of the smaller members of the owl family, with an average height of around 6-10 inches. Despite their size, they can still be a force when defending their young! Unlike many other bird species, owls do not have a crop for storing food and regurgitate indigestible objects such as bones and feathers in the form of a pellet. These pellets are sometimes collected by scientists to help determine an owl’s diet. Screech Owls often prey upon mice and small birds, but they may also eat crayfish, frogs, insects, and even bats! In the eastern U.S., Screech Owls come in two phases: red and gray. I was able to work with several Screech Owls of both phases during my time at the World Bird Sanctuary. The owls I worked with would often turn their heads around frequently and observe their environment with large eyes. I would sometimes hear their cool call, which sounds like a quivering trill. To tell the truth, Barn Owls and Dustin Diamond make more screeching sounds than Screech Owls.
Twig and Acorn – Two of the Screech Owls I worked with. Photo Credit = World Bird Sanctuary.
Despite their name, Barn Owls are not always found in barns, as they prefer roosting in cobblestone mansions and ivory castles. However, they will occasionally choose to nest in a barn if no fancy structures are available. Barn Owls have a heart-shaped face with a facial disk. The facial disk helps funnel sound toward their ears, which have openings just behind the eyes. The asymmetrical placement of the ears allows the owls to more precisely pinpoint where a sound is coming from. When I handled Barn Owls they would often screech as I walked out to get them from their perch. They were well trained and behaved well when performing in educational shows. They are also excellent fliers and have beautiful plumage on their wings.
Marshmallow, the European Barn Owl.
Barn Owl in flight. © Conrad Tan, CA, October 2011
One of the most familiar owl calls in the U.S. is the hooting of the Great Horned Owl. Also known as “the tiger of the sky”, the Great Horned Owl is a large owl that preys upon rodents, birds (including other owls!), snakes, and even skunks! Named for their large tufts (which are not the ears!), these magnificent predators have strong talons and fly almost silently due to the design of the tips of their primary feathers. Their feathers are serrated in a way that reduces turbulence and changes the flow of air while muffling sound. This feature is common for owls and what makes them so efficient at sneaking up on prey at night. Interestingly enough, Great Horned Owls can make a variety of sounds besides hoots, including chirps and barks! I work with a few of these owls (Coal, Jake, and Carmelita were their respective names) and was always entertained by their vocalizations. Interacting with these powerful birds up close was a treat and I was happy to help some of the injured birds get rehabilitated.
Here’s Coal and me at an Owl Prowl show
As you can see, owls are really cool creatures! Let’s finish this blog off with a couple more owl pictures. Don’t worry, owl be back!