By: Ashley Bergeron
If you’ve lived in the South Bend area for long, you’ve probably seen or heard owls around – but do you know ‘hoo’ they really are?
Owls are birds of prey under the order Strigiformes. There are over 200 species that live everywhere except Antarctica. The family Tytonidae is made up of barn owls, and has distinct features like heart-shaped faces and screaming instead of hooting. The other family, Strigidae, is made up of true owls. True owls can hoot and have round faces.
Due to their silent wings, owls make amazing killers. Owls’ wings are rounded with feathers that enable them to fly silently. Varying from one foot to 6.6 feet (0.3 to 2.0 m), their wingspan is significantly bigger than their body size. A unique feature that owls have is a reversible toe: their outer toe can point forward and backward. The owl can control this toe to help them in perching or hunting.
Most owls are nocturnal and hunt during the night. Some owls are crepuscular, or active during dusk and dawn. Fewer owl species are diurnal or active during the day.
Eight owl species live in the IU South Bend area:
- Barred Owl (Strix varia)
- Northern Saw-Whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)
- Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio)
- Great Horned Owl (Bubo viriginanus)
- Long-Eared Owl (Asio otus)
- Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
- Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
- Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus).
The Great Horned Owl has a wide range of habitats: forests, swamps, deserts, tropical rainforests, open fields, and urban and suburban areas. They are great hunters as they can pick up nine pounds and are the only birds of prey that hunt and kill skunks.
Barn Owls are known to nest in man-made buildings like, well, barns! Their vision is excellent for low light, which is good since Barn Owls are active during the night. Barn Owls’ ability to locate their prey by sound has been the best tested so far. They can locate a mouse in complete darkness. When eating, Barn Owls swallow their food whole and regurgitate out pellets, which are made up of unneeded nutrients.
Snowy Owls, known for their distinct white feathers, can be found by Lake Michigan during the non-breeding season, which is late winter. Unlike most owls, Snowy Owls mate from May to September, instead of in late winter. They migrate up to the arctic tundra regions of Canada and northern Greenland.
Sadly, six owl species are currently threatened, with most owl populations decreasing. There are many reasons for this, including habitat loss from climate change, deforestation and urbanization, pesticides, vehicle collisions and illegal owl hunting – a federal crime, as owls are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty.
So, what can we do to help? Read on for a list of things you can do to help save the owls.
- Put chimney caps on your chimney if you have one to prevent small owls from entering and getting hurt.
- Install external insect screens or use window paint to prevent owls and other birds from flying into your windows.
- Build an “owl box” in your yard or community to give owls a place to nest.
- Don’t use pesticides or insecticides on your property.
- Set out a bird bath.
- Leave large branches unpruned to give owls a nesting place.
If you want to keep owls out without hurting them, remove bird feeders from your yard or put in a scarecrow or hawk decoy.
To learn more about owls, check out the Owl Research Institution at http://www.owlresearchinstitute.org.