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Friday, June 23, 2017

A Quartet of Owls

[Feb/April. Michigan/Florida]

When we think of raptors, or birds of prey, we picture soaring eagles, diving ospreys, pouncing hawks or swooping falcons. But this grouping also includes scavenging vultures and secretive nocturnal owls. The raptors, therefore, cover a lot of taxonomic ground; indeed, the early classification of raptors by Linnaeus also included the Shrikes before they were rightfully omitted by Veillot. 

From this grouping, then, it is this blogger's pleasure to profile 4 outstanding representatives of the Owls that were observed in Michigan and SW Florida:

  • Northern Saw-whet Owl
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Eastern Screech Owl
  • Barred Owl

We start with a tiny, ear-tuftless owl -- an owl that sounds like a saw being sharpened against a whetstone -- the Northern Saw-whet Owl:

Seen at DNR Point in Harrison Twp, MI, this tiny owl is about the same size as a Robin and is a deadly hunter of mice.

While the Saw-whet Owl is decidedly nocturnal, our next owl, the Burrowing Owl is not necessarily so:


Seen on Marco Island, the Burrowing Owl is surely the "unowl" owl -- active by day and instead of nesting in trees, it uses abandoned gopher tortoise burrows. How these owls have managed to eke out a precarious existence in the ugly suburban sprawl on Marco is a minor miracle in of itself. In the US, besides the West, these owls are restricted to Florida where they faced constant pressure due to habitat loss and disturbance from both bipeds and quadrupeds. 

The Eastern Screech Owl, in contrast, is a typical owl:

With tufted ears and near-perfect camouflage, this owl comes in two morphs (grey, as shown, and also red). This individual was observed at Sterling Heights Nature Center, MI.

We concluded with a family of Barred Owls observed at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary:

This Owl (presumed female) was observed catching and devouring a fish that was then fed to her two little owlets:

An endearing sight indeed!

Owls are fascinating raptors that defy every stereotype -- some are truly nocturnal but not all. They can be large enough to kill cats (eg., Great Horned Owl) but can also be minuscule like the Saw-whet Owl or the Elf Owl. They hunt insects (like Burrowing Owls), mammals, birds and even fish (like the Barred Owl at CSS). 

Surely, the Owls present an opportunity for endless fascination and learning for the intrepid birder.

1 comment:

Kerry Schultz said...

Owls are the best birds that I like and want to have them in my house. They are so much cute and very adorable. Thanks for sharing the good info and the pics.