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August 1, 2013

Outdoors: Wide variety of owls patrol the North Shore

We were out on the beach just getting set up for a night of striper fishing. The twilight of the evening was slowly darkening into blackness as a haunting sound came drifting over the water from an island in the marsh.

“Who whoooo. Who whoooo.”

Seconds later we watched as an owl ghosted out of a spruce tree, his flapping wings making no noise, his head cast downward as he watched his unsuspecting prey beneath. As he neared the killing spot, he tilted his body back just a little and reached down with outstretched claws. Just as he clamped down on the back of the mole, his body rocked forward and with two beats of his wings he was up into the air, supper in hand.

All over the North Shore there are a wide variety of owls that patrol the night sky looking for bugs, snakes, rodents, birds and fish to feed themselves and their young. Although not many people see them, it is surprising how many there are that live here.

Owls can be found in every continent except Antarctica. The tiniest are the elf owls that weigh in at about an ounce and are at most 5 inches tall. The largest are the Great Gray, the Blackiston Fish Owl, and the Eurasian Eagle-Owl. These buggers can get to weigh as much as ten pounds and have a wing span of 61/2 feet!

In Massachusetts there are seven types of owls that live and breed here. They are the Great Horned, Barred, Eastern Screech, Northern Saw-whet long-eared, Barn, and Short-eared. There are four more types that live here from time-to-time: the Snowy, Boreal, Great Gray, and Northern Hawk.

The anatomy of the owl allows it to hunt efficiently in low-light conditions. For the most part it is quiet during the day, hiding in cavity in a tree or hunkered in close to the trunk shielded by limbs and foliage. But as the night descends, the owl goes on the hunt. To do this it needs both eye-sight and hearing that will guide it to its prey.

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