Skip to main content

More Short-eared Owls

I found myself at Big Island Wildlife Area yesterday, and stayed until late afternoon, when the Short-eared Owls emerged. The number of owls using this nearly 6,000 acre wildlife area has grown steadily since I last reported on them. We saw about ten of them at once last evening, and many others were present elsewhere. There might be as many as 40 or 50, all told.

There's a reason that so many rather antisocial owls are packed so densely, and the answer dwells within this tunnel. If you find yourself at Big Island on an owl-seeking mission, take a moment to scan the snow-encrusted ground for holes such as this. Then look within, and if the occupants have been active of late, you'll likely see fresh grass cuttings and tiny feces that are shaped like Tic-Tacs.

The owl's favored fresh meat - Meadow Voles, Microtus pensylvanicus, the maker of the holes in the snow. Snowfall serves these chunky mouselike rodents well. It insulates their runways, and probably increases the temperature within their grassy domain. Perhaps better yet, the snow offers camouflage from the numerous aerial predators that like to snack on them.

Cute as a button, and to an owl, a furry bratwurst with legs. In spite having snow-covered shelter in the form of a labyrinth of tunnels, the voles just can't seem to resist flirting with danger. They'll poke from their holes, apparently for a look-see around the landscape, or make mad dashes across open ground.
Such boldness can be a fatal mistake.

Like feathered predator drones, the platoon of owls thoroughly sweeps the fields, and those ultra-sharp eyes and ears don't miss a trick. Even a vole's quick run from cover is enough to send a Short-eared Owl barreling down and bushwhacking the little rodent before it knew what hit it.

I have to chuckle at the nattering nabobs of negativity who love to chatter about wetland/wildlife restoration projects funded by sportsmen's dollars. They perpetually claim that such work only goes to benefit ducks, as that's all that hunters care about, and the agencies that oversee such projects only aim to create "duck habitat" and could care less about nonhuntable critters.

A short decade ago, the land now frequented by these owls was in rotations of soybeans, corn, and wheat, and had been for decades. Miles of drainage tile siphoned away the water that moistened this fomer wet prairie, drying the soil enough that crops could be grown. Now, because of the Division of Wildlife's restoration work - funded by sportsmen's dollars - a much more diverse ecological system of prairie plants thrives. Wilson's Phalaropes have bred here, as have many other nongame wetland-dependent birds. The spike in plant diversity jumpstarted the food chain, allowing important prey species such as meadow voles to flourish. And thus the owls have come, to delight the scores of (mostly) non-hunting birders that come to admire them.

If you don't pay for habitat conservation via a hunting license, consider purchasing a Migratory Conservation and Bird Hunting Stamp ("Duck Stamp") or the beautiful new Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp.
Short-eared Owls are quite distinctive, even from afar. They row through the air with deep floppy wingbeats, jagging erratically over the hunting fields. If a vole reveals itself, the owl might briefly hover before plunging down and attempting to seize it.

Short-ears rank high among the most interesting birds to watch. They really don't seem to care for company, but when so many owls are hunting the same area, as is the case at Big Island, conflicts abound. These two crossed paths, and began barking at one another and dropping their talons in a threat display. A bit of strafing, barking, and showings of the claws, and they went their separate ways.

I hope you can make it up to Big Island to see the show. The owl circus seems to have shifted to fields along Espyville Rd. (T-84) between State Route 95 and La Rue-Prospect Rd. The wildlife viewing deck off 95 can also be good, and owls are being seen over the large impoundments on the north side of LaRue-Prospect west of Espyville Rd.

A scan of the map in THIS LINK will reveal all of these sites, and if you make the trip soon I'll guarantee you'll see owls. Just remember, these flat-faced hooters are most active late in the afternoon, towards dusk, and that's when you should visit.


Birding is Fun! said…
Great personal insights into Short-eared Owl behavior. I have enjoyed seeing them only on two occasions both times at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge north of Salt Lake City, Utah. Magnificent species of owl!
A furry Bratwurst! I will never look at my grilled Brat the same again. tee hee... THey winter near where we live. It is an annual treat to go watch them on snowy days. They are so active therefore easy to see. The way they bark and chase after one another is fun to watch.

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Snowy owl photography tactics - and things NOT to do

A gorgeous juvenile female snowy owl briefly catches your narrator with its piercing gaze. It's doing its Linda Blair/Exorcist trick - twisting its head 180 degrees to look straight behind. Owls have 14 neck vertebrae - double our number - which allows them such flexibility.

These visitors from the high arctic have irrupted big time into Ohio and adjacent regions, with new birds coming to light nearly every day. Probably 80 or so have thus far been reported in the state, and some of them have stuck around favored spots and become local celebrities.

I went to visit one of these birds this morning - the animal above, which was found last Friday by Doug Overacker and Julie Karlson at C.J. Brown Reservoir near Springfield. In the four days since its discovery, many people have visited as is nearly always the case when one of these white wonders appears near a large population center or is otherwise very accessible.

And as is always the case, people want to photograph the owls. And th…