The nugget. (Sisters, Or.) 1994-current, April 05, 2017, Page 17, Image 17

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    Wednesday, April 5, 2017 The Nugget Newspaper, Sisters, Oregon
Tales from a
Sisters
Naturalist
by Jim Anderson
Owls, owls and
more owls
There’ve been some inter-
esting phone calls arriving
on both my home and trav-
elin’ phones that are giving
me cause to suspect the alien
barred owl population (from
the eastern USA and Canada)
may be on the rise, and peo-
ple are confusing them with
our native great gray owls.
Great grays are owls of
the open spaces of the high
country with evergreen for-
ests. They like to hang out on
the edges of meadows, hiding
in the thick foliage of ever-
greens, waiting for gophers
and other meadow dwell-
ers to (literally) show their
heads. They’re very uncom-
mon in juniper and sagebrush
country, sticking pretty much
to high country pine forests
and open meadows.
The barred owl, on the
other hand, is a generalist; it
can get along with just about
any small prey, and as far as
I know doesn’t give a hoot
about what kind of habitat
it’s in. They are also a great
deal smaller then the great
gray, and they seem to be
popping up more frequently
near Bend and Sisters.
The species do look some-
what alike at a quick glance.
Both have no horns/ears,
both have a very noticeable
facial disk, and both have
similar coloration. However,
their very distinct differ-
ences are size and eye color.
The great gray is gigantic
by comparison (bigger than
a great horned) and has yel-
low eyes, while the barred is
much smaller (about the size
of a small chicken) and has
all-black eyes.
Great grays were having a
tough time of it not too long
back — and still are in some
areas — because of habitat
loss. Unfortunately, there’s
a direct conflict between the
owls’ need for a jackstraw
understory and the fire-dan-
ger requirements to eliminate
that jackstraw understory,
known as “ladder fuels.”
This conflict has been elimi-
nated in some areas with the
installation of nesting plat-
forms large enough allow the
owlets to remain in the nest
to fledge.
Unfortunately, like most
owls, the great gray select
nests that are handy, that
don’t have to even resemble
a “nest,” and because they
like to choose a nesting site
located on the edge of forests,
close to their favorite food
supply — voles, mice and
gophers — that’s “home.”
The so-called “nest” is
often a broken-off tree about
20 to 40 feet high. The (sort-
of) flat surface with broken
parts of the stub seems to
meet with approval for great
grays. The female lays her
eggs in among the stub’s
debris, fluffs up her skirt and
somehow keeps them warm,
and they hatch.
Within two weeks, there’s
no room at the inn. Baby
owls — especially great
grays — grow very rapidly.
Mom and dad are great pro-
viders, so within two weeks
or so their babies are about
twice as big as when they
hatched, and begin shoving
each other around.
If the “nest” is in a bro-
ken-off lodgepole pine or old
accipiter nest, and if there’s
two or more babies, they
soon begin pushing against
each other so harshly that one
or more is pushed out of the
nest. Most nests are some-
what out of the way of visi-
tors, so no one comes along
to see the “poor little baby
owl” on the ground and take
it to a rehabber.
That’s OK. Old Dame
Nature took care of the
business of great grays fall-
ing out of nests a long time
ago. Baby great gray owls
have enormous feet, and
with those long toes, sharp
talons and strong legs, they
can climb small trees like
nobody’s business.
That’s when the jackstraw
understory comes into play.
The baby owl climbs to the
top of the stick — sometimes
doing it vertically — and
starts squawking for food.
The parents take care of the
stranded owl as if it were
still in the nest, and often, the
youngster will remain on the
top of that pole, being taken
care of by the adult — even
after it fledges.
On the other hand, barred
owls will use an old raptor,
magpie nest, or pike of sticks
that holds all the babes in the
nest to fledging time, and as
generalists, can make a living
on just about anything small
that moves within a half-mile
of the nest, be it birds, frogs,
snakes, lizards, mice, gophers
or even stinky baby skunks.
But all this may come to
naught if a “tiger of the air”
— the great horned owl —
moves into or already occu-
pies the area. No owl is safe
when one of those tigers
moves in. Even smaller,
cavity-nesting species, such
as northern elf, ferruginous,
saw-whet, screech and flam-
mulated owls will leave a
nesting territory if a great
horned shows up.
Years ago I helped to con-
duct a northern spotted owl
survey for the Forest Service.
One of the protocols was if
a great horned answered the
spotted owl survey call you
were to fold up shop and
leave the area immediately.
South of Gilchrist, on the
east side of Highway 97, I
had a calling site like that;
all it took was one spotted
owl call, and a great horned
responded with gusto and I
hit the trail.
When it comes to strange
calls or sight-
ings that you’re
not sure of,
please do your
best to obtain
a “voucher
photo.” That’s
really the only
way everyone
can be abso-
lutely sure
what you’re
observing is,
or is not, what
you think it is.
If you show it
to local bird
experts, Tom
Crabtree of
Bend or Chuck
Gates
of
Powell Butte
— what they
say it is gospel.
O r e g o n Great gray owl.
Department
of Fish & Wildlife non-
game biologist Simon
Wray (simon.n.wray@state.
or.us), of Bend’s Central
Region office is on top of
every call he gets regard-
ing non-game wildlife. The
U.S. Department of Fish &
Wildlife appreciates the same
when someone reports a spot-
ted or barred owl. It would be
of far greater importance if
the biologists were to receive
a voucher photo when some-
one tells him of a sighting that
he or she is not quite sure of.
17
PHOTO BY JIM ANDERSON
Even if you don’t have a
photo, please don’t hesitate
to share any special wildlife
observation you may encoun-
ter. You’re there to experi-
ence it, I’m not, and if what
you’re reporting sounds like
a mystery, I may be ready to
go to the scene with you and
we do some looking together,
and share what we find. You
just never know…
Give me a shout at jim
naturalist@gmail.com; trave-
lin’ phone: 541-480-3728, or
home phone: 541-388-1659.
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