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Snow Conditions Making Life Challenging For Barred Owls


There has been an unusually high number of Barred Owl sightings reported in northern New England and New York this winter, primarily from the road and near bird feeders. This phenomenon, particularly with owls, is usually attributed to either a current lack of food or an abundance of food during the most recent breeding season resulting in a dramatic increase in the owl population.

In the case of Barred Owls, it is the former. Unlike Snowy Owls, which vary the size of their clutch depending on food availability, Barred Owls typically have two young, regardless of the size of the rodent population. Thus, a plethora of progeny can be eliminated as a viable explanation for the abundance of Barred Owl sightings this winter, which leaves a scarcity of food as the primary reason.

For several weeks there has been a thick crust on top of the snow, which makes hunting for mice and voles difficult for raptors. Because they are very territorial, Barred Owls rarely wander outside of their territory, even when food is scarce. Thus, especially in the past few weeks, they have been desperate to find small rodents. Roads are one reliable spot where mice, voles and shrews are exposed, and bird feeders are most definitely rodent magnets. Hopefully weather conditions will allow birds of prey access to the subnivean layer (space next to the ground where small rodents travel, shelter and breed) before too many more Barred Owls starve to death. (Source: Joan Collins, NYS Ornithological Association, UV-BIRDERS List) (Photo:  Barred Owl with recent Northern Red-backed Vole catch.)

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6 responses

  1. Alice Pratt

    That is a very sad fact. All owls are so awesome.

    January 20, 2017 at 8:04 am

  2. Of all my animal neighbors, barred owls are my favorites–I love hearing their duets in the summer. One just showed up near my feeder this morning; hopefully she’ll help with the red squirrel problem!

    January 20, 2017 at 9:42 am

  3. Bill On The Hill...

    An interesting correlation on the plight of barred owls this winter.
    Perhaps this warm spell over the coarse of the next few days will soften up the snow surface enough to allow the owls easier access to their favorite menu of various species of rodents.
    Bill Farr…

    January 20, 2017 at 1:56 pm

  4. Luckily, we have several fields that have melted clear. Good for all rodent hunters!

    January 20, 2017 at 7:15 pm

    • Alice Pratt

      Now just let them know to fly from their territories to feast!

      January 21, 2017 at 7:22 am

      • We have them along the forested ridges hereabouts. I hear them hooting in the summer as I lay in bed. A wonderful thing!

        January 21, 2017 at 10:04 pm

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