The Fascinating Night Birds – Owls

A white faced scops owl (Ptilopsis leucotis) | Alan Tunnicliffe

The owl may be my favorite bird of all. Most people are fascinated with owls but they don’t want to venture too close. While we have gotten more used to owls by reading and watching Harry Potter and the beloved Hedwig, that owl is nothing like the typical owl most of us see in neighborhoods, and near farms.

Owls are predators of smaller animals and sometimes these smaller animals can be heard screeching in the night as they are carried off by the owl in flight. Not a pretty sound. But at dawn or dust, the soothing call the owl makes during mating season is something that is more pleasant to most human ears.

Common barn owl (Tyto albahead) | Anan Kaewkhammul

There are over 200 species of owls. The most common is the barn owl. This owl has a long wing span of over 30-43 inches and long legs and talons for hunting. The snowy owl is also called the Great White Owl. This owl is slightly smaller than the barn owl and located in the Artic region of North America. The Burrowing Owl looks almost like a hawk, but the face is definitely an owl type face and the head moves like that of an owl. It is brown with a white stripe. This owl is smaller and also lives in North and South America. And finally, the Great Horned Owl is another very common owl we see. This owl has a large wing span of 40 to 60 inches. This owl loves dense forests and is found in North, South and Central America. The Great Horned Owl has been known to grab a domestic cat or two, so be wary if you have small felines and live near forests.

Snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) lifts off and flies low hunting over a snow covered field in Ottawa, Canada | Jim Cumming

Owls hardly ever mix with humans or pets though, unless they feel encroached upon. However, I actually know someone who was just running on a sidewalk early in the morning, and an owl swooped down and attacked her on the head. It was a pretty significant attack by the talons. The only reason I can think of was that the owl must have had a mate nearby, or a nest. Sometimes the owl will not have a nest up extremely high or they may perceive a threat that actually does not exist.  

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunilaria) | Fernando Calmon

There is something about an owl’s eyes that make them the most fascinating bird. Their stare added to the fearsome beak, calls into question that you are not quite sure what the owl might be thinking. At times the owl is comical with a side glance, or even scary, with a full on frontal look. But either way, the owl is a bird that will stop you in your tracks if you see one nearby.

Little Owls’ family portrait | Vladimir Kogan Michael

The young of the owl are called owlets. The nest can hatch as many as seven owlets, but not on the same days. The eggs actually hatch on different days. They grow very quickly and do not stay in the nest long. The barn owl for example, is fully grown in 8-9 weeks. Even if you find an adult owl to be a little scary, baby owls are the cutest of the baby birds. They are born with messy feathers, but with the “what just happened?” expression on their big faces.

If you live in North or South America, it is a sure bet you will probably either see or hear an owl in your lifetime. They are nocturnal but begin the evening activities before dusk and continue until daybreak. So there are lots of opportunities for owl sightings and hearings. They cut down on the mice population, so don’t be afraid, and enjoy your neighborhood owls.