December 7, 2012 / Issue #33

Owl Watch

Photo Credit:  U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo Credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Just a few days ago while walking through the Boston Common this writer came upon a woman peering into a leafless willow tree. It turned out she was a birder, out hunting for the afternoon. She was nice enough to share her binoculars with passersby and the view they revealed was one we all hope to see but never expect: An owl, in all it’s glory, resting on a branch not 30 feet from us. Even resting, spying that owl so close was an exhilarating experience.

We previously wrote about the mysterious nature of owls (even burning through a David Lynch reference or two in the process) so we won’t go down that tempting path this time. This week, we dedicate to everything you need to know about seeing and interacting with owls. Where to find them, how to invite them into your yard, and some suggestions to further their appreciation in your home.

Also, the owls are not what they seem and the birder we met at the Boston Common looked suspiciously like the log lady (sorry, it was too tempting).

(this is a picture of the actual owl seen at Boston Common)

(this is a picture of the actual owl seen at Boston Common)

In the wild
Owls may seem extremely rare but they are actually quite common. Unfortunately (for us), they are primarily nocturnal, so they are most active at night. This doesn’t mean you can’t see them during the day as some will rest on a tree branch in plane sight for an entire day. Look up into the trees during those nature hikes, especially during the leafless fall and winter months when picking out an owl in a tree will be much easier.

Want to increase your odds of seeing an owl? Lucky for you there is a pre-existing, robust network of birders adding their sightings to a database that churns out daily email alerts of rare and interesting bird sightings from all over the world.

Most recently in Massachusetts, barred owls have been frequently sighted in the willow trees near the duck pond in the lower section of Boston Common, along the brook in the conifer section of Arnold Arboretum, and in the willow tree on Agassiz Street in the Fenway Victory Gardens. These three are being seen and reported daily right now, so don’t miss your chance to check them out!

Photo Credit: Gilbert Garcia

Photo Credit: Gilbert Garcia

In your backyard
Another way to experience owls is to build them a home in your backyard. With just a little work you can create an environment so inviting owls won’t be able to stay away. You can chose to go the premade route and have an owl box installed in a few hours or follow the true DIY path and build one with your family. If you are feeling like a super-doer, you could even install an owl webcam for everyone to enjoy!

Whichever way you chose to go, once you install one of these boxes and it is discovered by a family of owls, you’re family will have a front row seat to year ‘round owliciousness.

Additional learning and experiential opportunities
There are a lot of ways to enrich your children’s appreciation for and understanding of owls. For the really little ones, Owl Babies is a great story to read before tuck in. The Book of North American Owls is for older kids (4th to 7th graders), and they will love the pictures and intricate details found within its pages, as well as the fact that all of the owls are native to our continent.

If your kids are the kind that need to know how amazing a predator these raptors are in order to become properly enthused, show them this breakdown of their hunting skills (but you may want to watch it first as it shows them catching and eating their prey).

Lastly, on December 12th from 7pm to 9pm Mass Audubon will be hosting a guided night hike in search of owls and other night creatures at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Norfolk, MA. They’ll even provide the hot chocolate!