For the Birds Radio Program: Owls

Original Air Date: Feb. 9, 1987

Laura finally saw a Boreal Owl!

Duration: 3′50″


(Recording of a Boreal Owl)

When most birders think of February in the Northland, they think of owls, and this year has been no exception. Great Horned Owls are starting to hoot their deep, mellow hoot at night.

(Recording of a Great Horned Owl)

Great Horned Owls are huge birds with tufts of feathers on the top of their heads that look like ears or horns. Actually, the function of the feather tufts is unknown, but almost definitely has nothing to do with their hearing.

Barred Owls will soon be calling, too. They’re quite big, and are hard to distinguish from Great Horned Owls when they fly past at night. If you see a large owl roosting in daylight, though, it’s easy to tell which one it is. The Barred Owl doesn’t have ear tufts, and has dark brown eyes–a Great Horned Owl’s eyes are fierce yellow. The Barred Owl is much more often heard than seen. Its hoot is strident, and usually follows the rhythm pattern, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”

(Recording of a Barred Owl)

The Barred Owl is named, not for a connection with William Shakespeare, but for the barring on its plumage. So spell it “b-a-r-r- e-d,” not “b-a-r-d.”

Snowy Owls continue to be sighted in the Northland–people driving to Target often see one sitting on signs and lightposts right in the mall area on Haines Road. And one was seen at the airport last weekend. Snowy Owls are the heaviest of all North American owls. Adult males are quite white, but females and young birds have varying amounts of dark barring on their bodies, and sometimes dark caps. Snowy Owls are usually silent in winter, but just in case you’re wondering what they sound like on their breeding grounds, this is their call:

(Recording of a Snowy Owl)

There are still three Northern Hawk-Owls in the Northland, including the one that’s been seen on the Lester River Road since December, one on West Tisher Road, and one just north of Cotton. They don’t have much to say in winter, although the one on the Lester River Road has made some squawking sounds at a bunch of crows mobbing it.

On February first, a Great Gray Owl was seen in the Sax-Zim bog area. Great Grays are the largest owl in North America, if you go by a ruler. But Great Gray Owls are mostly fluff–both Great Horned Owls and Snowy Owls are heavier. Great Grays have a deep, monotonous hoot.

(Recording of a Great Gray Owl)

The most exciting owl of the whole winter was a Boreal Owl which showed up in a birder’s yard in Saginaw on February First. That bird even obliged Kim Eckert’s winter birding tour group by sticking around until the next day, so the large group of out-of-state birders could list it. The Boreal Owl is tiny–only twelve inches high. My birding companions agreed that it’s much cuter than its close relative, the Saw- whet Owl. And the one we saw was wonderfully tame–it allowed one guy to walk right up to the tree where it roosted and photograph it–the owl eyed him curiously when he made squeaking sounds, but otherwise closed its eyes and slept in the late afternoon sun.

(Recording of a Boreal Owl)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”