Owls in My Backyard

Female barred owl

Female barred owl

If there is just one reason I enjoy living in the country, it is because of the wildlife I can watch from my window or deck. And if there is just one type of bird I enjoy watching, it is the owls that rarely make an appearance. Of course, I enjoy many things about living in the country and I enjoy seeing many birds and other kinds of wildlife, from the little chickadees and pine siskins, to the hawks, eagles, deer and moose that occasional grace us with their presence.
Over the last few years, we have been hearing (more than seeing)  barred owls (Strix varia) near our place. The first time we heard the owl was in the middle of the night in the early spring. The bird’s call is very distinctive, hooting in the rhythm “who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you”, and that call sounded like it was coming from just outside our open window. When I searched to have a look at this owl, it wasn’t quite as accommodating.

Male barred owl

Male barred owl

All this changed a few evenings ago when we heard a ruckus outside. Something was disturbing the robins and the red squirrels–all were chattering wildly. When my wife, Betty, went outside to have a look, an owl buzzed her and landed in a tree. Betty called  me and I got these pictures with my Nikon D70 (300 mm). The darker bird is the female and the lighter one is the male. These birds were very cooperative, despite the robins harassing them by diving at them, only to break away at the last moment.

The death mask of a barred owl staring down at a squirrel nest in the cavity of a tree.

The death mask of a barred owl staring down at a squirrel nest in the cavity of a tree.

The owls were most likely looking for something to eat, and we think we know what they were after. A female red squirrel with young ones lives in a nest carved out of the cavity of one of the poplar trees near our deck. She is very bold and chases off all other squirrels and birds who might be after her caches of seeds and mushrooms. However, she met her match with these giant birds sitting above her nest. I heard her bravely trying to defend her young from the safety of her tree cavity; but that chatter was more of a whimper than the usual harangue she gives an intruder.

Fortunately, the squirrel was safe as long as she stayed in the nest; and she did. Eventually the owls departed to hunt elsewhere, but I imagine they have this location on their “future considerations” list, as those young red squirrels will soon be emerging to learn what life is like outside the cavity of a tree.

The barred owl is an interesting bird. It nests from the southern Yukon to Florida and although nocturnal does occasional move around during the day.

So, what’s wrong with that?

www.donmeredith.ca

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About Don Meredith

I am a writer and biologist living in Alberta, Canada. I write a monthly column for the Alberta Outdoorsmen magazine.
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One Response to Owls in My Backyard

  1. Pingback: Touring the Woods « Don Meredith Outdoors

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