Owl

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article about owls fro SC wildlife magazine
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  24 SoutliCarolinaWildlife hatisitabouttheowlthatelevateshumaninterestmorethananyotherbird?Isitthatowls'eyesarelocatedonthefront,asopposedtothesides,oftheheadthatlendsussomekindofheightenedsenseofconnectionwiththem?Haveweconvincedourselvesthatwecanreadsomeelementofexpressionorwisdomintheirwide-eyedgaze?Perhapswearejustpredisposedtothinkingoftheminthecontextoftheirrichmythology.Ormaybeitissimplythattheyaresoelusivethatanyencounterwithoneleavesanimprintonus,birdfanaticandlaymanalike.Inourwildlife-richstate,wehavehealthypopulationsoffourowlspecies,threemorecommonlyseenthanthefourth.Alongthecoast,theluckybirdwatchermightcatchaglimpseofabarnowl,butit'sararetreat.Statewide,peoplemoreoftenseetheotherthreeowlspeciesnativetothePalmettoState:theEasternscreechowl,thebarredowlorthegreathornedowl.Eachofthesespecieshasitsownhabitatand,accordingly,differentcuesinnaturehelpuslocatetheseelusivecreatures.Onemethod,however,helpsinlocatinganyspeciesofdaytimeroostingowl:followthecrows.Sometimescrowscongregateinatreeandmakenoisefornoapparentreason.Thisisthetimewhenthecrypticdetailsofthetreeshouldbeinspectedcarefullysincecrowsoftenengage in abehaviorknownasmobbingwhentheyhavelocatedaraptor.Mobbingconsistsmostlyofjuststandingaroundinthesametreeastheperceivedthreatandmakingaruckus.Thisattractsothercrowsandthespectaclegrows,eventuallyforcingtheraptortoflyoffinsearchofsomepeaceandquiet.Thisphenomenonoccursonasmallerscalewithsongbirdsthattendtohangoutingroupsandcommunicatedangerthroughcalls.Bluejaysandchickadeesareknowntoengageinmobbing,but,for  obviousreasons,theirversionsarehardertodetectfromadistanceandhencelesseffectiveinhelpinguslocateowls.Thebarredowlisafairlylargebird,standing20to24inchestail,withdeep,blackeyesthatshownodistinctionbetweentheirisandthepupil. It hasayellowbeakandlacksthe horns ofthegreathornedowlandcanbeseenhuntingduringdaylighthours.Thisistheowlwe'remostlikelytotrackdowninSouthCarolina.Thebarredprefersswampy,woodedareas,andthehardwooddrainagesalongtheCongareeRiverserveasidealbarredowlhabitat.WalkingtheboardwalkatCongareeNationalParkatduskprovidestheperfectopportunitytohearbarredowls,oftenseveralthatseemtobetalkingamongthemselves.Leaflesstreesinthefallareenormouslyhelpfulforlocatingthisowl,whichlikestoroostfairlyhighinatree.Atnight,thebarredowl'sterritorialcallisstrikingandunmistakable,nothingatalllikethesubtlesoundofagreathornedowlthatmostofus.~ p havebeenhabituatedtobycountlessscarymovies.~LaurelBarnhill,wildlifebiologistwiththeS.C. § DepartmentofNaturalResources,havingcamped C) alongtheCongareeandheardtheowl'sloud, EasternscreechowlsarethesmallestofSouthCarolina'sfourowl hauntingcall,speaksfrompersonalexperience: species,typicallyreaching 8 to 9 inchesinlength.Aboveleft:An Someonewhoisnotfamiliarwiththecallmight adultandajuvenile great hornedowlpeekoutfromtheirperchina findhearingitinthewoodsatnightaterrifying hardwoodtree.Oppositepage:Thebarredowl'sdistinctivecall,often experience. Thebarredowl'scallhasbeen describedassoundinglike who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-approximatedphoneticallybybirdersas Whocooks all, 'J. isheardmorefrequentlyin February andMarch.andisthesource for you?Whocooks for you-alllllll? As crazyasthis ofitsCOmmonname: hootowl. January-Febnuuy2009 25  seems,thecallinthewildisremarkablysimilartothatphrase.Campersimitatingthebarredowl'scallhaveseenthisterritorialbirdcomewithin30feetoftheircampsite,evenwithouttheaidofarecordingdevice.tandingatabout9inchestallandbearingthecharacteristic ear tuftssimilartothoseofthegreathornedowl,thetinyEasternscreechowlratesextremelyhighonthecutenessfactor. It hasbrightyelloweyesandoccursinoneoftwopermanentcolormorphs:greyorred,withthegreybeingmorecommon.LocatingthescreechowlinSouthCarolinaissomewhatmoredifficultthanfindingthebarredowl.Thebesttechniquemaybetoseeksuitabletreecavitiesinwhichtheseowlsroostandnest.Findingoutaboutthesecavitiesrequiresnetworkingwithbirdwatchersorreadingonlinebirdingreports.Onceyouknowthelocationofacavitytree,you're in luck.Thebirdsaresomewhatpickyaboutthecavitiestheyuse,anditiscommonforacavitytobeoccupiedforyearsatatime.Maleandfemalearethoughttomateforlife.Thegreathornedowl,standing20to25inchestallwitha3.5-footwingspan,hasbeendescribedastheonlyowltobelarge,strongandhungryenoughtokillandeatskunksonaregularbasis.Theappearance,soundandsilhouetteofthegreathornedseemtohavedistinguisheditasthequintessentialowlinpopularNorthAmericanculture.Thegreathornedisasecretivecreature,oftenhidingincloseproximitytohumansamongthesuburbanwoodlotsofNorthAmerica.AwinternesterinSouthCarolina,thelargeraptoroftenappropriatesabandonedhawkorcrownests.Thematingperiodleadinguptonestingandthefollowingfledgingperiodoftheyoungprovidethebesttimestoseeandhearthisowl.Thelate- Barredowlsaredistinguishedbytheirroundheadandlackofeartufts.Center:Thebarnowl,withitsdistinctivewhiteface,isfoundmainlyinthestate'scoastalplainandisknownfornestingprimarilyinman-madestructures.Top:OfthethreemostwidespreadowltypesinSouthCarolina)onlythetinyEasternscreechowl is a cavity nester; J) sometimesoccupyingthesametree-orbox-foryears.  wintercallsofabirdlookingforamatecanleadyoutoanowlatnight,butperhapsthemostspectacularandup-closeviewingofgreathornedowlsoccurswhentheyoungowlchicksfirstleavethenest.Thisfleetingperiodofopportunityallowsbirdwatcherstoobservethesebrieflyflightlessowlsoftenstandingonthegroundbelowthenestoroneye-levelperches.Exercisegreatcautionwheninthevicinityofthenest,sincetheparentswillaggressivelydefendtheirchicksandhavebeenknowntocauseinjurytohumansandeventoflyawaywithsmallpets.wlshavethatspecialabilitytogenerateafascinationwiththewildworldforthosewhohad 1= 8 Vl GreathornedowlsmaystartnestingasearlyaslateNovemberInset:Juvenilegreathornedowlsgrowquicklyafterhatchingandcanbenearlyaslargeastheirparentswithin a matterofweeks. previouslylittleornointerestinoutdoorthings.Thoughtheycan'tactuallyturntheirheadsallthewayaround,theyarecapableofmysteriouslysilentflight,facilitatedbyragged-edgedfeathersontheendsofthewings.Withamystiquefirmlyrootedinmythology,theowlembodiesthepredatorystareofatimberwolf,thein-flighteleganceofabaldeagleandeventheendearingcuriosityofakitten.Formany,theelusiveandsecretivenatureofthesecreaturesservesonlytoheightentheexperienceofanencounter.Withtherighttimingandknow-how,findingowlsinthestateofSouthCarolinaiswellwithintherealmofpossibilityfortheamateurbirdwatcher.~ ScottLinsteadisafree-lancewriterandphotographerlivinginQuebec.Checkoutmoreofhis workat www. scottyphotography.com. Ianuary-Feinuary2009 27
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