Showing posts with label Long-eared Owl. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Long-eared Owl. Show all posts

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Long-eared Owl in his winter roost...

Yesterday at 4:00 p.m. I headed up to the Caesar Creek area with my birding and turtling friend, Paul Krusling, to look for a Long-eared Owl that is wintering in our area. Paul had seen the owl with his family the previous weekend and offered to go up and help me find what would become my next life bird...

A Long-eared Owl roosts in a tangle of cedar branches near Caesar Creek State Park.

If you pick up a book and read anything about Long-eared Owls, you'll probably come across the word "secretive." I've seen the word in almost every description of the bird I've ever read, and I often wondered about that. What owl isn't secretive? Well...after seeing the bird in person, I now understand. He was nestled so deep in a tangle of cedar branches if I wasn't looking in a specific place, I would never have seen him. To photograph him I had to shoot through several trees and many branches. I'm surprised he's visible at all. Thank goodness for telephoto lenses and the crop tool!

Warm caramels, rich browns, deep blacks, and pale buffs all come together to create a stunning bird, and even though a Long-eared Owl is a formidable raptor that kills its prey by biting the back of their skulls, "pretty" is the word that kept coming to mind as I watched at him through the camera lens. His colors and patterns are beautiful...and pretty...

When nervous or wary, a Long-eared Owl will pull in and compress his feathers to make his body look taller and thinner. When you combine the thinner cylindrical shape with the cryptic colors of his feathers, he looks like a limb! The very large tufts of feathers on his head add to the illusion by making him look like a broken-off limb.

Not just Long-eared Owls compress their feathers when nervous, but this was the first owl I've ever seen do it. Because he appeared so thin, we immediately left the area by his roost and climbed higher on the hill so we could look down on him from a distance. Through the binocs and the camera lens, we could watch him relax, and it didn't take long for him to puff back out to a plump, little owl!

...he's already getting a little puffier here. Right after I took this photo he regurgitated a pellet. I wish I had been videoing him. It was effortless the way he coughed it up...nothing like a cat hacking up a hairball!

...and finally within minutes he became a puffball with sleepy eyes. We left, going wide so he would not be disturbed.

Even though Long-eared Owls often roost communally in winter, ours was a solo-owl. If others were about, they were really camouflaged! What an incredible experience. This was a life bird for me, and one I probably won't see again any time soon...

Beak Bit
Every now and then I post "Beak Bits," which are tiny bite-sized bits of bird science. I started doing these a couple of years ago when my cousin's little girl started reading my blog. Anna has become quite the birder and recently did a science project on backyard birds! Yeah! We've added another bird-lover to our ranks. Hi Anna! This Beak Bit is for you...
The long "ears" on a Long-eared Owl are not ears at all. They are feather tufts that have nothing to do with hearing. The long tufts help provide camouflage for the owl by breaking up its shape and helping it imitate a broken branch. The Long-eared Owl's "real" ears are hidden under feathers and are located inside its facial disk. Since Long-eared Owls are strictly nocturnal and do their hunting in the dark, they have to hear very well. The owl's facial disk funnels sound to the owls ears, which are located behind the eyes and are asymmetrical. The left ear opening is higher than the right, which helps the owl narrow in on mice running in a field.