An eye for owls

Owls have long held a special place in the hearts and minds of their human observers.

The solemn

The solemn



Owls have long held a special place in the hearts and minds of their human observers.

Some think it’s because of the owls’ penetrating eyes and solemn demeanour. Others speculate that it is actually the placement of their eyes—set forward in their skull like ours—that strikes a cord deep in the human psyche.

Whatever the reason, most people feel some sort of connection with these fascinating creatures.

I have seen all of Alberta’s eleven owl species, from the diminutive but ferocious northern pygmy owl to the large and regal great gray.

It is my goal to get good photographs of them all — not an easy task when most species are nocturnal. Great horned owls (which I’ll feature in an upcoming column) are common and conspicuous, but none of the other owl species are often encountered.

Northern pygmy owls, the tiniest owl species in Alberta, are found in the western boreal regions. Despite their small size, they are fierce predators and will even attack prey larger than themselves.

A pair has nested for several years in the cavity of a gigantic old poplar near Caroline. While we were watching the nest one day last spring, a nestling suddenly peeked its head out and glared at us for a few moments.

Long-eared owls resemble great horned owls but are smaller and their reddish facial disks are thinner. They are locally common but are rarely seen because they remain hidden during the day.

It was a thrill to get photographs of this nestling near Clive. The young are so cute and comical, with their budding ear tufts and startled expression.

Great gray owls, denizens of the boreal forest, are my very favourite. Their large size and steady gaze give them an imperial air.

Lucky for owl watchers, they can sometimes be seen perching on roadside fence posts in the west country. A pair near Raven chose to nest atop a broken snag a couple of years ago, so we were able to photograph the nestlings (this one looking ever-so-bored) at eye level.

The Red Deer River Naturalists (RDRN) keeps records of owl nests, so if a pair takes up residence on your property this spring, we’d be interested in hearing from you.

Well-known owl specialists, Chuck and Lisa Priestly of the Beaverhill Bird Observatory, will be talking about owls at the RDRN meeting on Thursday, February 25th at Kerry Wood Nature Centre ( 7:30 PM, free admission).

They will have a non-releasable Barred Owl with them, so those in attendance will have the opportunity to get a close-up look at one of these black-eyed beauties.

Myrna Pearman is a biologist and site manager at the Ellis Bird Farm. contact her at nfo@ellisbirdfarm.ca.

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