Owls have always been a mysterious fascination for me. I think that it may be because of their mysterious lifestyle.
Over the past few days I enjoyed photographing several snowy owls as well as one Great-horned owl. I also spent time just watching them as they sat, all-knowing on their varied perches. Most of the snowy owls sat on tall roosts such as power-poles, barn roofs or fence posts. Two sat in the field, half buried in snow. Perhaps they had caught their mousy meal already and were waiting for me to move along so they could enjoy their lunch in peace. Each owl sat motionless with hooded eyes, with only their head swiveling to show life. They can turn their heads a full circle, or 360 degrees but rarely do so. Most often they swivel up to 270 degrees or a ¾ turn. Humans can only do 180 degrees maximum. Owls can also do a full 180 degree tilt up and down, Their eyes do not move in their socket like ours do. Less body movement makes owls less likely to be noticed by potential prey.
|Male Snowy Owl|
When the hungry owl spots a meal, they lift off very quickly and glide down on muffled wings to silently grab their unsuspecting prey. Mice, shrews, lemmings, squirrels, voles, rabbits, hares, ducks, as well as smaller birds are all potential prey. They hunt from perches or by gliding over open fields and meadows or ponds. Some hunt in the forest as well. The great-horned owl often take prey such as squirrels, grouse and hares in forest landscapes. Owl nests have been known to contain pet collars as well, so mind your small dogs and cats when walking or playing outdoors. They all have tremendous eyesight and hearing as well. We used to watch Great Grey owls swoop off the tops of poplar trees and plummet into two feet of snow after invisible mice rustling around in their snow covered lairs more than 50 meters away. The great grey could pin-point and grasp that mouse using only mouse-rustling sound directed into their facial disc ears.
One owl sat on the peak of a granary while a pigeon, a potential meal, sat watchfully in the auger hole of the neighboring granary, hoping not to become the meal.
|Snowy Owl on Granary While Pigeon Watches|
Snowy owls have been quite common over the past few years far south of their normal range. This southern irruption is due to healthy owl populations in the far northern nesting grounds. Come winter time, they have been migrating south in search of food on the prairies and even along the sea shore. While down in more populated regions of the country photographers and owl watchers have enjoyed great viewing and photo opportunities which may also put some stress on the birds. Generally, they are quite skittish if we get too close to their roost. Some will tolerate us within 50 to 100 meters or so but many will flush when you get that close so they are using up valuable body fat and calories needed to survive. It is a good idea to allow them to relax and watch from a comfortable distance. Use good binoculars or a telephoto lens to get closer looks.
|Snowy Owl Watched by Cows|
Generally, males are whiter than females and the older they get the more white they are. Older adult males will have very little black barring in their plumage.
I also enjoyed spending time with a young Great-horned owl that likes to hide out in my brother’s windbreak. His lighter colored plumage indicates his young age but not sex. Unlike the day-time hunting snowy owl, the Great-horned owl prefers hunting at night or in early dawn or dusk. The GHO prefers to roost and sleep the day away from pestering crows, magpies or threatened song birds. He may also carry part of his latest meal to his roost for a snack later in the day. I once saw one carry half of a snowshoe hare to his day time roost.
|Great Horned Owl Roost|
While out hunting for owls or other birds there is always the chance of seeing other wildlife and spectacular scenery. This weekend was no exception. Several herds of deer were together, accompanied by bucks in hopes of catching a doe in heat. It is past the rutting season but there may be a chance that a doe did not catch the first time in heat.
|Mule Deer Watching|
We also enjoyed a welcome Chinook as its warm wind swept across the prairie. The temperature warmed up by more than 20 degrees overnight after the snowstorm and chill of the past few days. We could see the clear blue Chinook arch hanging above the mountains to the west chasing the grey cloud cover east. Wind picked up causing drifting along fence lines and ditches as well as chasing snow snakes across the highway.
|Chinook Arch to the West|
Owls are beautiful and magnificent predators and rare birds to see, so enjoy it when you do. Take time to enjoy the scenery and other wildlife, especially when the weather is so pleasant.Relax yourself and enjoy the experience of owl watching.