Tag Archives: Barred Owl

Here’s Looking Back

Owlet in the nest box – looking back at you

Last July our post Here’s Looking At You was about Barred Owls in Sandy Springs with two great photos taken by our friend Cindy Mayer.  She has a piece of wooded property with pines and thought it would make great habitat for the owls.  We offered to make an owl nestbox for her in return for more photos if it were used by the owls.

She and her husband paid a tree service to put the nest box way up in a pine.  And she was right about the location!  Today she sent us photos of a young owlet in the box.  It’s a great story, as told in her own words.

Owl box mounted on a tall pine

“After we moved into our house about 3 years ago, we spotted two adult barred owls in our backyard & neighbors indicated they’d unsuccessfully nested in a tree stump across the street the previous year.  That was enough to set me on a mission!  I researched owl nest boxes including where & when they should be placed with hopes of enticing the owls to raise a family in our yard.  We live in a forested neighborhood near the Chattahoochee river.

There’s a clean stream a couple of properties away & our property consists mostly of mature trees such as loblolly pines, tulip poplars, sweetgum trees & southern magnolias with a few maples, redbud, dogwood & oaks.”

“The nest box sits about 35 feet high in a tree in the central rear of our backyard, which abuts an elementary school.  There are more trees on the other side of the fence & a little-used gravel pathway for walkers.”

Owlet in the nest box

“I’ve been watching & listening for any evidence of an owlet for the past few weeks since I saw activity in the in the nest box.   This afternoon I saw what looked like an owl’s tail sticking out of the doorway of the nest box, so I ran downstairs to grab the camera & headed outside. And when I got there, I saw two big eyes & a ball of fluff sitting in the doorway, & talons, too — silently staring at me! How exciting!! ”

“I only saw one owlet, although there may be more inside the box. And he was much bigger than I expected!  So I guess the family was further along than I realized when I first saw the action in the nest a few weeks ago.  But I am thrilled there is at least one little one. And by the way, every “serious” birder I share the story with tells me that it is very unusual for owls to accept a nest box so soon after being installed.”

Thanks for the story and photos Cindy and for all the great things you do for wildlife. Such an inspiration–what we do in our own yards matters!

Raptors in Harm’s Way

Cooper's Hawk - Accipiter cooperii

Cooper’s Hawk – Accipiter cooperii

Late in the day on Monday we were driving on the Georgia Tech campus and a Cooper’s Hawk flew low right in front of the car, barely missing us.  A split second prior to seeing the bird, a squirrel raced across the street in a straight-line hurry.   He was not doing the indecisive squirrel thing that they do in the middle of the road, but running full out.  Clearly the squirrel was in the hawk’s sights.

How often does this happen?  A little homework revealed that it happens much more often than  you might think.  Here’s what we’ve learned.

Urban raptors that we see here are mainly hawks (Cooper’s, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered) and owls (Screech-, Barred and Great Horned).  Hawks are daytime hunters while owls hunt at night, but both may be seen in the twilight hours of dusk and dawn.

Great Horned Owl - Bubo virginianus

Great Horned Owl – Bubo virginianus

Cooper’s Hawks and owls look for prey from a perch and then move quickly to pounce on a prey animal (‘perch-and-pounce’).  During a chase, these birds are laser focused on their prey, and because their eyes are fixed to the front they often miss objects coming from the side.

Cooper’s Hawks will fly fast and low to the ground, then up and over an obstruction to surprise prey on the other side. [1]

The side of a highway or a city street is an ideal spot for urban perch-and-pounce raptors.  This time of year, the leaves are off the trees and rodents and squirrels have less tall grass and ground cover in which to hide.

Wildlife rescue organizations say that winter brings an uptick in raptor collisions with vehicles.  Speculation is that the increase is attributed to two groups: young first-year birds who don’t yet know the ropes and migrants.  Both groups would be unfamiliar with the territory and the roads. [2]

Although raptors are fast and agile, they are no match for fast-moving vehicles.

Cooper's Hawk - Accipiter cooperii

Cooper’s Hawk – Accipiter cooperii

So, when driving in town, especially in urban neighborhoods with lots of trees and good hunting spots, slow down.  If you see a squirrel, chipmunk or small rodent racing across the street, hit the brakes.  Not just to save the squirrel, but because a raptor may be close behind.  Drive like your children and wildlife live here.

If you hit a raptor and it is still alive, try to get it to an animal rescue facility quickly.

References and Additional Information

[1]  Cornell – All About Birds:  Cooper’s Hawk
[2]  Audubon Society of Portland:  Winter Raptors
[3]  HawkWatch:  Risks to Raptors
[4]  City Wildlife:  Raptors in Our City

Here’s Looking at You

Two days ago our friend Cindy (one of our bird ID experts) sent an email with these terrific photos of two Barred Owls taken in her back yard in a Sandy Springs subdivision.  She was generous enough to let us post the pictures along with her story which follows.

“My husband & I live in the southern Roswell neighborhood of Northcliff, near the Chattahoochee River.  It’s a heavily forested, residential area with people & dogs walking, biking, running & playing in the river.  Wildlife is abundant in the area, but setting up a couple of bird feeders & bird baths [has helped] to bring the critters closer to you for observation.”

Barred Owl“Two owls sometimes visit our backyard late in the afternoon or early evening while I water plants & clean birdbaths. They usually perch on a low tree branch to watch me as a handful of brave chickadees brazenly scold the much larger owls.  We are thankful to get to observe these owl friends from time to time — especially in our own backyard.”

“I am a 4th generation Atlanta native & my background is in education & environmental science. My love of nature & the outdoors was influenced by my grandparents, who maintained a backyard organic garden for decades, long before ‘organic’ was cool. As a child, I cherished visiting them — watching birds & playing with worms, skinks & garter snakes while doing our outdoor chores.”

Barred OwlWe have Barred Owls in Peachtree Park, but we haven’t been as successful as Cindy getting a picture.  However, we were able to record them calling in our back yard – check out our post title Who Cooks for You? from September.

Atlanta AudubonWe first met Cindy when she came to certify our yard as a wildlife sanctuary with the Atlanta Audubon Society.  It was fun and Cindy taught us a lot emphasizing these key attributes: “items like a water feature (birdbath), native plants that provide food, places for wildlife to hide (like  brush piles or shrubby area) & places for wildlife to nest & raise young.”

Join the fun and let’s get some more yards certified in Peachtree Park!

Who Cooks for You?

Barred Owl - Strix varia Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge - November, 2006

Barred Owl – Strix varia
photo taken in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in 2006

That’s the way we remember one of the calls of the Barred Owl – who_who who_whoooo (who cooks for you).

We’ve been hearing them in our yard and the yards adjoining this spring and summer.  Occasionally we’ll be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of two or three moving around in the pines at dusk.  At least two neighbors have reported that they have them nesting in their back yards.  One says they have been in residence for at least eight years.

Two nights ago at 2:00 a.m. we were awakened to a sound like the caterwauling of a howler monkey.  There were at least two talking back and forth.   Based on Cornell’s All About Birds site, we think this is a mated pair.

I went outside to get a recording and they were moving all around sometimes sounding only 15 or 20 feet away.  But since they are masters at stealth mode, I could neither see them nor hear them fly.  This went on for almost an hour.

Even though we rarely see these birds, we love hearing them at night.  And being such good nighttime hunters they help keep the rodent population in check.  We also have the Great Horned Owl and Eastern Screech-Owl here.  We’ll talk about them in a future post.

First Day of Spring

Moon Rise in Buckhead

Moon Rise in Buckhead

Today, March 20, 2015 is the first day of spring, which is the vernal equinox.  An equinox occurs twice a year, around March 20th and September 22nd.  On the day of the equinox, the center of the Sun spends roughly an equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on the Earth, so night and day are about the same length.

Night Sky and the Milky Way - Arches NP

Night Sky and the Milky Way – Arches NP

Why are we talking about the equinox?  Because it made us think about night and how important the darkness is to wildlife. And to us.

The International Dark Sky Organization is a non-profit which is “…fighting to preserve the night”.  They have a brochure that talks about light pollution and it’s impact on wildlife.  In the brochure, the ‘Solutions’ section tells about how important darkness is and things you can do to help keep it dark.

Last fall we were in Arches National Park at night where you can see the stars and the Milky Way and really experience the night. Compare the two pictures above of the night sky:  the first taken earlier this week right outside our front door and the second in Arches National Park.

Eastern Screech-Owl

Eastern Screech-Owl

We have our own night critters right here. At least three kinds of owls that we’ve heard or seen, bats, opossums and frogs just to name a few.  The Eastern Screech-Owl nested for several years in our yard.   And just recently we recorded the Barred Owl, a frequent nocturnal visitor, one night outside our back door.