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Hungry Barred Owls Near Feeders

3-4-19 barred owl _U1A2992Over the past few weeks many people in northern New England have discovered Barred Owls perching near their bird feeders during the day. At this time of year, with snow on the ground, food is harder to find and owls are forced to hunt during the day as well as at night. Bird feeders are a sure source of food, as mice and voles are coming out to feed on spilled seed (most often at night).

The owls we see are relying primarily on their sense of hearing to locate small rodents. Their ear openings are asymmetrically placed, which means that sounds reach the owl’s ears at different times. This helps them zero in on the exact location where the sound is coming from, both when they are perched as well as in flight.

Although Barred Owls can detect the sound of a mouse scurrying through tunnels two feet beneath the snow, this winter has been more challenging for them than many. Almost every snow storm has been followed by rain, which has created multiple layers of icy crust. Although sound may be heard through solid, liquid, or gaseous matter, one wonders if these multiple layers of crust compromise an owl’s ability to hear. In addition, these conditions can’t help but impede an owl’s ability to reach its target as quickly as it normally does.

A dear friend whose compassion for creatures big and small is unmatched was going to great lengths (coating balls of hamburger with hair cut from her dog’s coat so they would bear some resemblance to small rodents) to help a resident owl in a time of need. Some would argue that nature shouldn’t be interfered with, but those readers with a desire to come to the aid of a hungry owl could let a little seed fall on the snow that’s packed down around the feeder in hopes that a large supply of accessible food might attract more rodents which might fill more owl stomachs.

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11 responses

  1. Carolyn Parrott

    I love this post as my daughter just posted a photo of a barred owl near her feeders. Would barred owls eat suet?

    March 1, 2019 at 8:02 am

    • Yes, I know from personal experience that barred owls eat suet (stole some from my suet feeder and perched nearby with a clump its talons) — but I’m not sure I’d encourage the consumption of it!

      March 1, 2019 at 8:33 am

  2. Marilyn

    Well, this is timely. For the first time I saw one, originally on a porch post and then in a tree overlooking the feeders. Two crows persuaded it to relocate, but it was soon back. The little birds flew around it and perched quite close, while the red squirrel pair hid.

    March 1, 2019 at 8:04 am

  3. Bill on the hill

    Gorgeous picture Mary. Looks like a good one to print off!
    I have had a mating pair of Barred owls on the property for close to 20 years now, without fail they signal to one another as I usually hear them in stereo & they slowly get closer together based on their sounds…
    A few years back now I was still hunting on the backside of my property & a barred owl silently swooshed about 12 feet above my head & it nailed a rabbit on the opposite side of a ravine embankment immediately below me.
    That experience made my day!
    Bill… :~)

    March 1, 2019 at 8:27 am

    • Spectacular, Bill! Wish I had time to respond to all of your fascinating tales and comments! Keep them coming, please!

      March 1, 2019 at 8:35 am

  4. Alice Pratt

    I have a constant supply of beef suet out, bought 2 more packages yesterday…Red Bellied woodpecker loves it….and is getting more used to me watching him from inside the house, only 4 feet away. Always have birdseed & peanuts out….would love to see an owl! There sre plenty of meadow vole tunnels in the snow.

    March 1, 2019 at 8:54 am

  5. I question the hamburger approach as it likely is a grocery store meat with growth hormones and antibiotics in it. I would suggest that people put a large tray near ground level to attract squirrels and rabbits, this gives the owl opportunity to eat what is on it’s diet menu. I have done this for several years, it stops the squirrels from eating from the bird feeders and at night the rabbits come. This also has stopped rabbits from eating my shrub and tree bark. I also believe it gives the owl a chance to capture live meat at night, as I know they are out there and rabbits are produce in numerous numbers by nature to be part of the food chain. I know the owl was successful at least once. I feel better about this approach rather than feed the owl human contaminated food.

    March 1, 2019 at 9:12 am

    • Alice Pratt

      I only buy Grass Fed Beef, from Australia… that would be OK

      March 1, 2019 at 9:59 am

    • You’ll be happy to know she only used hamburger for a day or two, and then switched to (freezer-burned) venison!

      March 1, 2019 at 4:00 pm

  6. Thank you, Mary. I have given this advice to a couple of friends who have barred owls in need. Years ago I watched one starve. Your advice will save some for sure.

    March 1, 2019 at 10:02 am

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