Backyard critters: The Barred in our Yard!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Mother and fledgling "branching"

Photos by Gloria Z. Nagler, Text by John W. Lewis and Gloria Z. Nagler

Although we think of a owls as chiefly nocturnal hunters, two Barred Owls have taken up residence near our yard in Lake Forest Park to hunt during sunlight hours. A mixed gift: Bad news for the squirrels, great news for the amateur nature photographer. Given their species name, John has taken to calling our pair Willie and Wilhelmina (after Shakespeare, the original Bard:)

The first photo in this article is of what we think is a mother and her fledgling, doing what is called “branching“. They sat on the branch together for several minutes doing mutual grooming, eyes partially closed in what we take as bliss. Although that was the first time we saw them together on one branch, they often hunt together.

The number one eccentric feature of owls for us is their eyes. Owls have tubular eyes which face forward only and cannot move. That was reason enough for them to evolve an ability to turn their heads almost all the way around (270 degrees). They have binocular vision, but, when tracking prey, have to move their heads from side to side constantly to keep their eyes on a moving target. As you can see in the photo of the owl launching itself, their eyes are eerie.

Eerie eyes - but magnificent wings

The puffy owl in the photo was freaked out by a divebombing Steller's Jay who seem determined to drive the owl away. 

Divebombed by Stellar's Jay

And when we glanced up at our roof the other day, having heard movement, we saw this owl looking down at us, less than four feet away -- Barred Owls are not much afraid of humans!

Not much afraid of humans

So where can they be found? Barred Owls were originally native to eastern North America, but extended their range to include our Northwest over the past century. They are sometimes considered invasive, having displaced the similar Spotted Owl and smaller Western Screech Owl, according to two recent books on owls by local authors (Calvez and Bannick, see below). Turns out the Barred Owls even hybridize with Spotted Owls.

If you want to see one: A friend reported to me this week that she saw three Barred Owl fledglings in Discovery Park.


National Geographic field guide to birds
Stan Tekiela’s Birds of Washington Field Guide
The Hidden Lives of Owls, by Leigh Calvez
Paul Bannick's "Owl: A Year in the Lives of North American Owls"


Anonymous July 9, 2018 at 3:58 PM  

Most interesting article! We look forward to more stories about our backyard critters.

Unknown July 10, 2018 at 6:26 AM  

How wonderful for you to share your observations and superb photos with the community!

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