Jan 08 2009
Snowy owls are rare but short-eared owls are easily found in grassland habitats at recovered strip mines, especially at Volant and West Lebanon. They’re there because there’s a lot of food: mice and voles.
It’s always amazing to see an owl during the day and short-eareds put on quite a show. They are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) so they can appear a couple of hours before sunset on dreary days.
Their flight is mothlike, floating over the fields as they hunt for small mammals. Sometimes they “bark” when they encounter another owl or when annoyed by an enemy such as a red-tailed hawk. Sometimes they interact in an aerial display (click on the photo above).
I’ll never forget the time Marcy Cunkelman took me to see the short-eared owls at West Lebanon. We parked on a side road in the middle of the grasslands and stood next to Marcy’s car waiting for sunset. It was cold so we pulled up our hoods and put our backs to the wind.
The sun had set but the sky was still light when the owls finally appeared in the distance. Marcy said, “I’ll bring them closer,” pursed her lips and made squeaky mouse-like sounds. The owls were unimpressed and continued floating over the distant fields. Marcy squeaked again and again.
Suddenly, an owl we hadn’t seen flew from behind and crossed directly in front of our faces. He looked back at Marcy as if to say, “Where’d you hide that mouse?”
I went to Volant last weekend and tried to call in the owls but I was never been able to match Marcy’s squeak. The owls ignored me completely.
(photos by Cris Hamilton, taken at Volant Strips. Click on the photo above to see Cris’ picture of two owls interacting.)