Dear Bird Folks,
I’ve been hearing owls calling near my house. Hearing owls in my neighborhood is not uncommon, but what’s strange about these owls is that they have been calling during the day. Isn’t that unusual? Also, what kind of owls do you think they are?
– Walt, Richmond, VA
This can’t be good, Walt,
Your story is just another item on a growing list of strange natural occurrences. Last week we heard from a lady who had frogs living in her birdhouse. Frogs! This past spring we got a note from Nina, who had Blue Jays eating the paint off her deck (really). And I think we all remember back on New Year’s Day when birds were literally falling out of the sky in Arkansas (probably from too much partying). Now you say owls are calling during the day? Maybe the Mayans and that crazy Rapture guy are right. These may be signs that the world is about to come to an end. Better accelerate your bucket list, I have the feeling that hearing owls calling during the day is a sure sign that civilization as we know it is about to…wait. Hold on. I just remembered! There are owls that call during the day. Forget what I just wrote. Everything is cool.
The owls you are hearing are most likely Barred Owls. For some reason these owls didn’t get the memo about only calling after dark. They will call to each other day or night. Another reason you might be hearing Barred Owls around your house is that they have been slowly changing their habitat preferences. Typically, Barred Owls live in dense, damp forests. But in recent years many of them have been finding the suburbs more to their liking. And the last time I checked, Richmond has plenty of suburbs to choose from. Either that, or Richmond has been converted back to dense, damp forests when no one was looking. That wouldn’t be so bad.
Barred Owls are fairly large birds. They are only a touch smaller than Great Horned Owls. But unlike Great Horned Owls, they don’t have horns…great or other wise. The head of a Barred Owl is rounded and its eyes are completely dark (probably due to lack of sleep from all of that diurnal calling). Barred Owls are agile hunters and aren’t fussy eaters. Their diet includes mice, birds, snakes and crayfish. In fact, in some locations they eat so many crayfish their feathers have a pink hue to them. (Pink owls? Maybe the world really is about to come to an end.)
Barred Owls are non-migratory. They work, sleep and breed in the same territory every day of the year. Their diverse diet allows them to live just about anywhere they can find food, but finding a decent place to nest can be a problem. Like other owls, Barred Owls don’t build their own nests. They need to find a nest site that’s ready-made for them. They seek large, natural cavities to lay their eggs in. Historically, the best nesting locations have been in the huge trees found in deep forests. Recently, however, a researcher has found dozens of these owls thriving in and around the city of Charlotte, NC. Why Charlotte? Charlotte’s huge shade trees provide the spacious nesting cavities the birds require and the wide-open lawns make hunting for rodents a piece of cake. (Oh, if only rodents were only a “piece of cake.” That would totally change everyone’s attitude towards squirrels.)
Living in a suburban location has several advantages. There’s plenty of food, available housing and great theater options. But the owls have one major problem with city life and it’s the same problem the rest of us have – too much traffic. In the woods owls typically fly low, below the canopy; that, unfortunately, doesn’t work in the middle of civilization. Occasionally an owl ends up going for a free ride on the hood of a Plymouth. Not good. No self-respecting owl ever wants to be seen riding on a Plymouth.
As you mentioned earlier, Barred Owls are a noisy lot. Because they spend their entire lives within the same territory, they want to make sure that other Barred Owls know about it. Day or night they are likely to call out, to keep others from encroaching on their turf. The signature call of the male is a series of hoots, which many people have interpreted as sounding like, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for youuuu-all?” To which the female replies, “No one cooks for me. I’m an owl. I eat things raw. Get a clue.” Wow, the females can have a bit of an attitude.
You are lucky to have Barred Owls near you, Walt. Over the years Cape Cod has had very few of these handsome birds. However, recently things have been changing. Barred Owls, which also like to use old hawk’s nests, seem to be finding the Cape more appealing. In addition, these owls will use manmade nest boxes. Putting out a nest box not only assists the owls, but it also helps with varmint control because the owls love to eat little rodents. Just keep in mind that Barred Owl boxes are quite large, much bigger than most other owl boxes. Also be careful where you mount your box. Last summer I mounted my large owl box too close to the road and instead of owls, a family of tourists from Hackensack moved in. The people were nice but frankly, they stunk at catching rodents.