Thursday, January 25, 2013
Boy, oh boy are the Barn owls out in force this winter...and while that is a great thing for birders and photographers like many of us, it is not necessarily a good thing for the owls.
First - lets talk about the good. It is so thrilling to see these soul-stirring silent hunters up close. Right now - with conditions as they are - is an amazing time to see them hunt and glide above the marshes around the Refuge Auto Loop. They dive from signs and building-tops - they bullet up from roads and rushes - and they stare sarcastically from the snow saying, "I'm not cold - are you?"
Over the past weeks - several Barn owls have been seen on and around the Refuge rather consistently - and my own two forays around the loop in the past week have yielded sightings of 7 Barn owls both times! I've seen them pounce on prey or search the snow for more.
Now - for one of the unfortunate reasons we are seeing so many and getting such a good glimpse of them this winter. They are hungry and possibly starving in the harsh conditions this year.
Barn owls - and owls in general - had a rather good season last winter - with mild temperatures and a plentiful poplulation of rodents for a food source. The cold temps, thicker snow and now - ice on topf of the snow - have really changed those conditions this winter. Rodent populations are down - or they are much harder to get to. With deep snows or hard, ice-covered drifts that the owls cannot puch through, owls resort to hunting along roads and - due to their low flying and camoflauged colors, often get hit by cars during harsh winters. Also - to make up for hard hunting conditions and less food - especially coming into the breeding season or having to feed young - some owls resort to hunting in the daytime much more than they would normally. Again - this makes it great owl viewing, but unfortunately - it is very hard on the birds themselves. But - to end on a good note, usually these conditions and harsh seasons are cyclical (as a lot of natural systems are) so this may be nature's way of keeping populations healthy and thinning out the "herd", so to speak. Either way, it makes for some excellent wildlife viewing right now - so if you can brave the cold and slick roads...get out there and enjoy the owls!