Share it! Science : See it? Share it! Look Who-oo Visited My House!

Friday, January 2, 2015

See it? Share it! Look Who-oo Visited My House!

There are some things in nature that are awe-inspiring no matter how many times you see them. About a week before Christmas my dog and I walked out to the mailbox to grab our mail. This is rarely a peaceful experience as our neighbor's dogs, who are always loose, take this as an opportunity to let us know that they believe they own our property too. It was late in the afternoon, the sun was still up, but it was starting to feel like dusk as many December afternoons do. All of the ruckus from the dogs must have spooked the wildlife because as we came back up the drive the song birds were singing and chirping furiously. We both looked up to see what the noisy birds were calling about and just then a Barred Owl  swooped down from its roost and landed on a nearby tree branch!
Our Barred Owl Visitor ©SBF 2014

A bold songbird flew to the branch above the owl's head and gave it a good tongue-lashing, but the owl, unfazed, remained on the branch, camouflaged with the tree trunk. After observing for a few minutes, we ran inside to get the camera and my husband. We watched the owl for quite some time and it remained there as I continued to peek at it throughout the evening.
     
We have frequently heard the familiar "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" song of the Barred Owl when walking on our road or through the window at night, and have seen this type of owl several times on our pre-dawn dog walks. So, it was not entirely surprising to see it show itself on this afternoon. Although it was not surprising, it was still amazing. I have been lucky enough to handle these beautiful birds as a wildlife educator years ago, yet even though I've held them up-close there is something different about seeing them in the wild. We live in a wooded area with some remaining old growth nearby, a rarity in New England which was mostly cleared for farm land or logged as it was settled.

We're fortunate to have spotted a lot of wildlife since we bought our property three years ago. However, the owl is a reminder of how much is out there that we never see. Had I not seen where the bird landed in the tree, I doubt I would have ever noticed it there. I even had trouble spotting it through my camera lens as it was so well camouflaged.
     
The Barred Owl is a common owl with gray and brown markings. It has brown bars down its chest, hence the name, Barred Owl. They are usually found in forested, or wet swampy areas. In the winter it is not unheard of to see them in areas with bird feeders, like my yard, targeting songbirds or squirrels. This owl is found all over the eastern half of the United States, up into Canada and down through the Idaho and Washington area.
Can you spot the owl high above our compost bin? ©SBF 2014
If you live in, or can visit an area with Barred Owl habitat, winter is one of the best times to go out and listen for these birds. Usually, as we head into February, the owls are out calling to their mates. They begin their mating and nesting season early to give their owlets a hunting advantage over all of the mammal babies that are born in the spring. Going owling on a cold February night can be a magical family activity. Checking out a copy of Jane Yolen's "Owl Moon" from the library to read to your kids in the next few weeks would be a timely precursor to this outdoor adventure. You might also want to check out this link for some ideas from other families on how to get your kids excited about birding. Speaking of birding, a great bird watching opportunity for you and your kids is the "Great Backyard Bird Count" which takes place February 13-16th this year. See the GBBC website for more details. Before I sign off, here is another great link to some owl images from around the world. 
Do you have an owl or birding experience to share? I'd love to hear about it! Comment below, or send me an e-mail at: shareitscience@gmail.com

Owl Moon- The perfect book to read before owling with children (or adults!)

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