Monday, November 25, 2013

Barred Owl

The day after we moved into our new place, we were greeted with the call of a Barred Owl.  I literally dropped what I was doing, and ran into the house to get Jacob so he could hear the echoing call, too.  The owl's 'who cooks for you, who cooks for you all' call is wonderful; full of vibrato as it fills the woods. Needless to say, we are thrilled to have such a cool neighbor.

Its been about 2 months now, and we enjoy biweekly calls and sightings.  We've learned that there isn't one owl, but two who hoot back and forth; including on a full moon night just out side our bedroom window.   We've spotted the owls trying to get away from a gang of crows, and gliding silently way from crunching leaves and noisy dogs.  About 2 weeks ago we finally saw one perched, Jacob ran back to the house for binoculars for a great look (thanks, dear.)  Every time I see the owls it makes me happy because they are so amazing.

Today, however, I finally found a roosting tree and under it four owl pellets!  I was really excited because I have been looking for the roosting tree in hopes of finding pellets and learning what the owls eat.  Its so cool to know another detail of our owls lives.  The pellets contained shrew skulls, probably Northern Short-tailed Shrew based on size and teeth; White-footed mice skulls; and a vole skull, most-likely Red-back Vole.  There were multiple animals represented in each pellet with an average of 4 animals per pellet.  Some of the skeletons were from young animals and others were mature.  Many of the bones were broken and missing so I don't know if each pellet represents one feeding or if the owl makes more than one pellet at a time.  I'm also not sure how old the pellets were, but the last pellet I dissected was much drier and easier to pick apart. So the pellets tell us that, our woods have shrews, white-footed mice, and voles, and Barred Owls who eat them.

Shrew & rodent skull,
Sharp insect crunching vs flat nibbling & grinding teeth

The largest pellet is about 2 inches by 1.5 inches

Shrew teeth have a stained color

If you've never dissected an owl pellet, I recommend trying it.  Especially if you have an owl in you neighborhood.  This is a project that many elementary aged kids do, but some of us never get too old for fun science!  You can order owl pellets off the internet, and there are tons of resources like bone charts on-line. I think that wild owl pellets are more fun because it really does show more about the owls and woods around you.  In my old job at the Austin Nature and Science Center's Trade Counter, I dissected two wild Great-horned Owl pellets with kids and we found a juvenile opossum bones, rats, and mice in one, and rats, mice, and bat remains in another!  Small owls like Screech Owls eat mostly bugs so if you find a tiny pellet near your owl box don't over look the bug bits.  The fun of owl pellets is not knowing what you will get and learning more about our these fantastic birds.