Barred owls abound

After my latest bird column published in The Keene Sentinel this week, I received a few additional photos of barred owls from readers in SW New Hampshire. Funny how they are showing up on feeding poles so often.

Here is the column explaining the Year of the Barred Owl.

First (below) is the original photo I received and then two additional ones.

Photo by Bob Sullivan
This barred owl perched on a bird feeding pole and took several dives at a vole under the snow in Westmoreland, N.H.
Photo by Dale Woodward This barred owl was spotted on a feeder pole in February 2019 in Walpole Village, N.H.
Photo by Rick Allen This barred owl perched on a feeder pole in Swanzey, N.H., during February 2019.
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For the Birds: The Winter of the Barred Owl

Photo by Bob Sullivan
This barred owl perched on a bird feeding pole and took several dives at a vole under the snow in Westmoreland, N.H.

In recent memory we’ve had the winter of the junco, the winter of the snowy owl, and the winter of the robin.

This seems to be the winter of the barred owl. Throughout New England, barred owls are being seen in greater-than-usual numbers.

I received an email and terrific photos from Bob of Westmoreland. On Super Bowl Sunday, he noticed a barred owl perched on the bird feeder pole in his yard. But the thrills didn’t stop there. Bob watched as the owl took a few attempts at snagging a vole in the snow beneath the feeder. Alas, the owl never got its prey.

“I kept pausing the Super Bowl every so often to check,” he wrote. “I have plenty of barred owls in the neighborhood, but this was the first time I ever saw one hunting at the feeder.”

Bob noted that smaller birds such as chickadees kept right on using the feeders and the owl paid them no mind.

People think of owls as nocturnal, but they can be active during the day. This is especially true of barred owls, which often call their eerie “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” hoots during the day.

The spike in sightings has been so pronounced that The Connecticut Audubon Society called on several bird experts to try to explain the phenomenon. The responses have been interesting, to say the least.

The experts at Connecticut Audubon think the wet spring and summer produced ideal growing conditions for critters such as mice, squirrels and frogs. That, of course, makes for lots of food for the owls to thrive and results in a low mortality rate among first-year birds. These young birds are now spreading out looking for territory of their own.

The organization, however, heard conflicting viewpoints from others. In fact, many feel the opposite may be true and that a lack of food is bringing the birds of prey to areas of higher visibility. This includes along roadside; similar to hawks, owls look there for easy prey, too.

Unfortunately, as Connecticut Audubon Society reported, this has led to an increase in owls being hit by cars. One wildlife rehabilitation center in southern Connecticut had already treated 45 barred owls by early February.

The barred owl (Strix varia) is one of the most common owl species in New England. Great horned, eastern screech, barn, and saw-whet are among the other more common species in our region. Sightings of long-eared and short-eared, as well as snowy owls, spike in the winter in New England. Also, who could forget the great gray owl that graced Newport, N.H., two winters ago?

At about 20 inches tall, Barred owls are relatively large owls, dwarfing screech (10 inches) and saw-whet (7 inches) owls, but bowing to great horned owls (25 inches).

Barred owls lack ear tufts, which gives their head a rounded appearance. They get their name from the barred plumage on their chest, belly and sides.

If you see a barred owl this winter, you’re not alone. They are giving birders and nonbirders alike plenty of thrills this winter. Of course, if you do come across one, let me know about it.

Great Backyard Bird Count personal results

Photo by Chris Bosak A white-breasted nuthatch sits on a bird-shaped birdfeeder during the winter of 2016-17 in Danbury, Conn.
Photo by Chris Bosak A white-breasted nuthatch sits on a bird-shaped birdfeeder during the winter of 2016-17 in Danbury, Conn.

As promised, here are the results of my Great Backyard Bird Count experience this morning. It wasn’t overly successful in terms of finding birds, but it wasn’t too bad either. At any rate, all checklists are valuable, so my 2019 GBBC list is in. Not that participants are limited to one checklist, and I may just do another one tomorrow as the Count runs through Monday.

My species list included: black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, dark-eyed junco, pine siskin, American goldfinch, hooded merganser, and ring-necked duck. The waterfowl, of course, I spotted at the pond at the end of the trail behind my house. The pond is 85 percent frozen, but open just enough to hold a small flock of ring-necks.

Feel free to share your highlights by commenting on this site or BirdsofNewEngland.com Facebook.

Since my species list wasn’t so great, here are photos of each bird I saw today. (Note: The photos were not taken today, but these are “file photos.”)

Photo by Chris Bosak A black-capped chickadee checks out a feeder during a snowstorm in Feb. 2017.
Photo by Chris Bosak A black-capped chickadee checks out a feeder during a snowstorm in Feb. 2017.
Photo by Chris Bosak A tufted titmouse contemplates grabbing a peanut from a deck railing following a snowstorm in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 2017.
Photo by Chris Bosak A tufted titmouse contemplates grabbing a peanut from a deck railing following a snowstorm in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 2017.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-bellied Woodpecker eyes a peanut a few days following a snowstorm in Danbury, Conn., February, 2017.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-bellied Woodpecker eyes a peanut a few days following a snowstorm in Danbury, Conn., February, 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak A downy woodpecker eats bark butter out of a homemade feeder in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 9, 2017.
Photo by Chris Bosak A downy woodpecker eats bark butter out of a homemade feeder in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 9, 2017.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Hooded Merganser swim in a small unfrozen section of water at Selleck’s/Dunlap in Darien, Conn., in Feb. 2014.
Photo by Chris Bosak A pair of Ring-necked Ducks rest at a pond in Darien, March 2014.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Dark-eyed Junco looks for seeds during a snow storm in New England, Jan. 2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Dark-eyed Junco looks for seeds during a snow storm in New England, Jan. 2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak A pine siskin eats Nyjer seeds at a feeder in Danbury, Conn., fall 2018.
Photo by Chris Bosak
American goldfinch in winter plumage.

Still time to participate in Great Backyard Bird Count

A Red-breasted Nuthatch perches near a birdfeeding station in Danbury, Conn., Oct. 2016.
A Red-breasted Nuthatch perches near a bird feeding station in Danbury, Conn., Oct. 2016.

There is still time to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. In fact, in recent years the Count has been extended through Monday — so no excuses. It’s a beautiful day in New England (at least where I am) and I’m eager to head out right after making this post. I’ll let you know what I find later today or tomorrow. As always, feel free to send me your highlights.

Remember, if you see a ton of birds or only a few (or none), it’s all good data. Don’t fail to submit results just because you think it was an “unsuccessful” bird walk. Click here for my recent column on that matter.

Many people are concerned that they are not seeing chickadees at their feeder this winter. This is your chance to contribute to data that may help scientists determine if, indeed, there is a problem.

All the information about the GBBC and how to submit your results may be found by clicking here.

For the Birds: Birds do just fine without feeders, too

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Blue Jay eats an acorn at Selleck’s Woods in Darien, Conn., April 2016.

After a three-hour drive to visit my brother Gregg in upstate New York, it was nice to relax and watch the black-capped chickadees forage in theblue spruce trees outside his kitchen window.

A flock of dark-eyed juncos darted past the window and settled at the base of his house where a bare patch of ground offered the only hope for these ground-feeding birds. The rest of the yard was buried under snow and ice.

A glance back at the spruce trees proved what I had thought all along: The chickadees were not alone. It was a mixed flock of chickadees and tufted titmice poking at the Continue reading

Titmouse and the peanut

Photo by Chris Bosak
A tufted titmouse take a peanut from a railing in Danbury, Connecticut, February 2019.

Here is a short series of photos showing a tufted titmouse contemplating and ultimately deciding to make off with a peanut, which looks comically large in the bird’s tiny bill. Good thing titmice don’t swallow their food whole.

I got this.

Continue reading

Live was a flop, but here are some photos from today

Photo by Chris Bosak
A song sparrow takes shelter in an old Christmas tree during a snowfall in Danbury, Connecticut, February 2019.

My attempt to go live from my feeders today was, well, a learning experience. The video quality looked much better on my iPhone screen than how it translated onto the big screen next to me. Also, Facebook live makes you shoot vertically (not how you’re supposed to do it!) so the first several minutes appeared sideways. Who knew?

The birds were fairly cooperative during the 15-minute live shoot. A group of pine siskins covered the tube feeder while mourning doves, titmice, chickadees, goldfinches, juncos, downy woodpeckers, and white-breasted nuthatches visited the various other feeders. A song sparrow, an irregular visitor at my feeders anyway, also showed up and took seeds from the platform feeder.

What was somewhat expected but didn’t show up were blue jays, cardinals, and red-bellied woodpeckers.

I guess it’s time to look into a new camera capable of streaming live video. The iPhone just didn’t cut it – at least for this experiment. Thanks to those who did tune in. Next time will be better.

In the meantime, here are some more photos from the action Continue reading