Late winter is owl-watching season in College Hill

An owl sitting on a limb in a bare tree

An owl spotted Monday morning between Carr Street and Rankin Place

Late winter and early spring (before the trees leaf out) are the best times to see our neighborhood owls. They show up well in bare trees. They’ll perch in magnolias for better cover, but they’ll sit out in the open for extended periods, too.

We see them fairly often on the north side of Carr Street, in the wooded backyards between Carr and Rankin Place. And we hear them even more frequently, especially at night. The first sign of their presence during the day is often a commotion among the smaller birds, especially crows. The crows take charge in confronting owls and hawks, squawking to draw a crowd and then leading the harassment. They often succeed in chasing owls away. If the owl can get to a safe perch, it might be patient and wait the smaller birds out. Or it might just move along (who needs the aggravation?).

The owls we see in the neighborhood appear to be barred owls. They’ll sit up in a tree and look right down on you, sizing you up and eventually losing interest or looking away toward rustling sounds on the ground that might be signs of more promising prey. Their gaze is unnerving, as is the silence of their flight when they come or go. It’s easy to see why so many cultures have seen the supernatural in them.

Click here for an excellent webpage on barred owls, including audio files of their calls.

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