Owls a hoot, but keep your distance
Charlotte and I were walking down a path, through a generic patch of tall trees with branches everywhere. It didn’t seem to be anything special, least of all something to write an article about!
As we were walking, talking, and enjoying the sunny day we both did a double take. We had walked within metres of a beautiful Barred Owl perched in one of those ‘generic’ trees and while we had no idea he was there, he was very aware of us. Once our eyes met, he swooped right by us, causing our startled reaction, on his way to a new hiding spot. This was Charlotte’s first Barred Owl but definitely not her last.
So how does one look for an owl designed to stay hidden? You can start looking for owls in evergreen trees, especially tall pines, on both the top and lower branches. Try looking close to the trunk, as this helps them hide among the tree’s many limbs. If you’ve just thought to yourself: ‘This is a foolish! Don’t you know how many evergreens are in the Toronto area alone?’, don’t despair! I have more tips.
To help narrow down WHICH tree to search in, look around the trunk of the tree for owl pellets (small sausage-shaped bundles of fur, feathers, small bones and skulls). Did you know that owls regurgitate at least one owl pellet a day? You can also look for fresh ‘whitewash’ owl poop drippings on leaves, branches and the tree trunks. Don’t forget to stop, be quiet and listen for the call of the owl.
Finally, a really good sign is that chickadees and blue jays like to harass and mob owls. If you hear those birds constantly chirping, go check it out because you may find an owl!
What to do once you find an owl?
If you should happen upon an owl, be very still and quiet. Do everything in slow motion. If you’ve been watching the owl for two minutes, accept that he’s been watching you for 20, might already feel threatened, and is probably considering flying away. Sink slowly to the ground to appear less of an intruder.
If the owl manages to relax, you might get an extensive viewing opportunity. If the owl looks alarmed (elongated body, moving its head back and forth), back off very slowly and quietly, keeping your profile low.
Do not ever use call tapes, imitations of owl calls, or spotlights. Do not disturb the owl, nest or roost site. You could become the reason a nest fails or a roost is abandoned. Never use flash photography or shine light directly on owls when they are roosting, flying or capturing prey. Seeing or hearing an owl provides an exciting experience for both young and old, just please enjoy the animal without interfering with it.
Tommy Thompson Park and all local parks are great for finding owls. For more information on birding and owls visit www.allaboutbirds.org.
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