wHooo’s out there? Inquiry Project 3 & 4 – There’s An Owl in My Woods! Sarah Woodard – November 2009
Somewhere in the night… Setting: my home, a wee house in surrounded by woods. Time: twilight and sunrise. Question: What is that noise? Where is it coming from?
The Answer: An Owl! (Correction – Owls!) Night after night my husband and I would hear the same low murmur of a noise from inside our house. We would go outside, but the noise would stop. Finally, once while coming home from night class, I could here the noise more clearly. The distinct, “Who, whoo. Who, who, who, whooo” could be mistaken for nothing but an owl! And to my surprise, there wasn’t just one call but two!
A First Sighting Early one morning as he was headed to work, my husband (Brent) spotted two large, dark gliding figures as the swooped over his car as he drove out the long driveway. “The wing span was huge! It looked nothing like a crane or herring. They were compact and fluffy except for the wings! I think I saw our night hooters!”
The Research Begins What Kind of Owls Were They? Owls Known to Live in Indiana: So, I started by finding out what owls were commonly found in Indiana. I went to the Indiana Bird Check list! Barn Owls * Eastern Screech Owls Great Horned Owls Snowy Owls Barred Owls Long-earred Owls Short-earred Owls* Northern Saw-Whet Owl (* = owls only sometimes found in Indiana, not common) **Taken from the Indiana Bird Checklist** http://www.wbu.com/chipperwoods/CWBO_Bird_Checklist_0109.pdf
Sorting Out the Possibilities Since we were unable to actually get a clear picture of the owls, only knowing they are rather large and dark in color, I decided to look up a little bit on each of the different owls in found in Indiana in order to make an educated guess as to what owls were living in our woods.
Eastern Screech Owl Description: Small owl, tends to be red-brown, grey, or brown-grey. This owl is found in most of the eastern United States and can live in both urban and rural areas, commonly utilizing nesting boxes. This owl mates for life. This owl eats small song birds, particularly the European Starling. Description of Song/Call: “The trilling song on one pitch, sometimes known as the Bounce Song, is used by members of a pair or a family to keep in contact.” Listen to the Call: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Screech-Owl/sounds
Barn Owl Description: Most widely common owl around the world occurring on all continents. Medium sized, white/mostly white, with a heart shaped face. This owl has very dark eyes and no ear tuffs. Females plumes are typically showier than the males. Feeds on small mammals. Description of Song/Call: Best described as a long, hissing/screaming. (Kind of scary!) Listen to the Call: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barn_Owl/sounds
Snowy Owl Description: Large, white owl with some dark barring. The whiter the owl, the older it is! Females will have some dark coloring throughout their lives. This owl is fiercely protective of nests and have been known to defend them even against wolves! Builds nests in a dug-out in the ground. Eats lemmings and other small mammals and amphibians. Description of Song/Call: Deep powerful hoot with lots of clicking. Listen to the Call: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Snowy_Owl/sounds
Barred Owl Description: Large owl that lives in predominately woodlands. Has no ear tufts. Eats small mammals, but also eats crayfish which can turn the owl’s belly feathers pink. Its greatest predator is the Great Horned Owl and will avoid areas where this owl resides. Description of Song/Call: “The Barred Owl is familiar for its distinctive "who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all" hooting.” Listen to the Call: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barred_Owl/sounds
Long-eared Owl Description: Mostly brown with an orange facemask and obvious ear tufts. The white feathers between the owl’s eyes form an X. Medium sized owls. Likes to nest in other bird species used nests. Description of Song/Call: “Song of male is an even hoot, repeated every two to four seconds. Alarm calls vary; most common alarm call resembles barking.” Listen to the Call: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Long-eared_Owl/sounds
Northern Saw-Whet Owl Description: Very small owl, no ear tufts. This owl has yellow eyes and is brown/white in color (speckled). Likes to eat small mice (Deer mice) or large insects. Description of Song/Call: This bird’s call is very songbird-like, with whistled toots. Listen to the Call: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Saw-whet_Owl/sounds
So Who is Our Hooter? Answer: Great Horned Owl Link to the call of a Great Horned Owl: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Horned_Owl/sounds This owl’s call is the only one that sounds similar to the calls I hear every night and also is native to Indiana. Also, it makes sense that there are two calls, probably male and female, since these birds are known to mate for life.
The Great Horned Owl Habitat The Great Horned Owl is known to live in a variety of places stretching from tundra to rainforest. Mostly these owls prefer wooded areas next to open spaces where they can hunt.
The Great Horned Owl Mating Habits and Nesting Nesting The Great Horned Owl “uses a variety of nest sites, including trees, cliffs, buildings, and the ground. [They] do not make [their] own nest, typically taking over nests in trees made by other bird species. [They] often puts nests in hollows or broken-off snags in trees.” Clutch Size: 1–5 eggs Egg Description: White, close to spherical. Condition at Hatching: Helpless and covered with white down. Mating Habits These birds have been known to mate for life, but that does not mean that is always the case. These birds may only mate with one partner for a brooding period. While the females are larger than most males, the male owl’s call is deeper and the female’s is higher pitched. You can often hear the birds call to one another if they are a mating pair.
The Great Horned Owl Hunting and Diet “Broad diet of animals, from small mammals to rabbits, geese, and herons. Some birds, amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates, but mostly mammals.” Only animal known to hunt skunks. Is a predator to many other owls and birds of prey. They are known to regularly hunt and eat falcons and other owls.
Popular Stories Featuring Owls Hedwig from the Harry Potter Series Hedwig is a snowy owl. The popularity of the idea of owls as pets skyrocketed with the Harry Potter films, however, owls do NOT make good pets. Owl from Winnie the Pooh The character of Owl was based on the archetype of the “wise owl.” However, this character’s wisdom is not always wise.
The Next Step:Learning to Call a Great Horned Owl All of my digging online to find some information on how to call a Great Horned Owl turned up empty. It seems the best way to learn is to practice and to emulate the call sounds of the bird.
A Summary and Ongoing Investigation We keep hearing our owl friends, both male and female, and suspect that they are a brooding pair. Great Horned Owls brood in the winter, unlike most birds who raise their young in the spring, due to more vegetation. We have had on a few sparse sightings of the birds who remain well hidden in our woods.
Credits and Resources The majority of the information for this investigation I found at www.allaboutbirds.org , which is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This website is a gold mine for anyone searching to learn more about the birds in their area! Great for bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts alike!