Northland Nature...Barred owls are welcome residents of May woodsDuring May, those of us who watch nature closely will find plenty to see. The woods are filled with spring wildflowers and fern fiddleheads on the forest floor, while the trees provide a greening canopy overhead.
By: Larry Weber, Pine Journal
During May, those of us who watch nature closely will find plenty to see. The woods are filled with spring wildflowers and fern fiddleheads on the forest floor, while the trees provide a greening canopy overhead. The changing plant life is only part of the story and each day we revel in the discovery of new migrants that have arrived during the nights. Many sing and provide an abundance of sounds in our yards.
While some will continue to go further north for the breeding season in the boreal forests of Canada, others will be spending the summer with us. Each day, bird songs that greet us as we step outside are a testimony to those that breed here. We may not find nests very often, but these territorial proclamations let us know that they are settling in to raise families somewhere nearby. And birds are not the only migrants now.
On the afternoon of May 13, I saw monarch butterflies fluttering on the south wind. This was the earliest date that I ever recorded.
With all these migrants arriving and departing at this time, it is easy to overlook the ones that were here all year. These permanent residents gave us companionship and enjoyable hours of feeder-watching during the winter, but dispersed into the woods with the warming weather. A closer look or listen tells us that the chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, crows and ravens are still with us. They also form territories to live in and proclaim ownership like the other birds, but with all the new migrants being so showy and vocal, we tend to forget them.
A pair of barred owls that also wintered here became very active and loud about a month ago. They were hard to not notice as they called in the night, and frequently in the daytime as well. Finally, one day I watched one as it soared through the woods and settled on the top of a broken-off birch tree. And I realized that I was observing the owl at its nest!
Before the foliage made its appearance, I was able to look through the 100 feet of woods quite easily, to where the pair chose to nest. Like others of their kind, these barred owls were nesting early in the season. As predators, the young grow more slowly than do songbirds, and they need a longer time for development. The bark of this dead tree was higher that the inner wood, and so provided a snug site for the owl family.
My regular walks the last month have included stops to look over the owl nest. Regardless of the weather, when we had some hot, cold and wet days during that time, she was present over the clutch. He, too, came by often but was usually seen sitting at attention in nearby trees. And of course, they continue to call. Their hooting call is often described as saying “who, who, who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all.” This sound is still heard each night, echoing through the calm dark silence of the woods.
Barred owls are perhaps the most common owl species in the Northland. Birds are about 20 inches long, smaller that the great horned owls, and much larger that the tiny saw-whet owls. Unlike the great horned or long-eared owls, barred owls have no ear tufts, and their heads are round. The body is mostly gray with bars on neck and chest; hence, the name.
Seeing well in their nocturnal world, they use this sight, silent flight and sharp talons to capture the needed rodents to keep the fluffy babies fed upon hatching. They’ll grow in the nests and fledge while still lacking the feathers of adulthood. But by late summer, I expect a couple more owls in the woods. And I expect, between now and then, lots of interesting owl-watching.
Retired teacher Larry Weber of Carlton is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him at email@example.com.