New bird in Town-Feb. 2001

A New Bird in Town

We humans do not feel any hint of spring in this winter air, but invisible hormonal changes are taking place within many plants and animals. These changes are a result of their internal clocks synchronized with the lengthening amounts of light as each day passes.

My first awareness of spring came several weeks ago when a friend called to say that she heard a maniacal laugh coming from the Greentree Nature Center, which is behind her house. I said, “Well, I don’t know what it can be. Call me if you hear or see anything else.” It was an ice-crystal-clear morning at 5:00 AM when the phone rang. “I can see it,” she exclaimed. “Come over quick; it’s laughing again.” To my delight, when I arrived, the visitor was still present, rounding its head as if it was using radar to scan its new territory. This wondrous bird turned out to be a Barred Owl. Its presence and so called spring vocals were intended for its mate and other Barred Owls. The other Barred Owls were being told that this area was off limits.

Barred Owls are large birds weighing up to two pounds. They have a 44-inch wingspan, a body length of up to 20 inches and gray-brown plumage. The Barred Owl is the most vocal of Pennsylvania’s owls. Its call is “eight accented hoots in two groups.” Cornell University describes the call as: “Who cooks for you, Who cooks for you all.” The owl usually calls early in the evening and at dawn. It is active during the day and will scold you if you disturb its peaceful wooded home.

So why has this harbinger of spring made itself known during these chill filled days? The answer is hormonal, of course. It’s time for our Pennsylvania owls to impress the lady owls with their voices and their choices of residence. This Barred Owl will soon nest in a hollow tree or take over an old crow or hawk nest. Most Barred Owls will lay 3 to 5 white round eggs. The female incubates constantly as each egg is laid. This will cause an owl family to have owlets of different sizes and stages of development. Only the strong will survive their six to eight week incubation and three to four week fledgling periods.

Owls are good neighbors. They eat rodents and keep away the noisy gangs of birds, which we sometimes consider to be pests. The resident owls in Bird Park are the Eastern Screech Owl, both red phase and gray phase. The Long Eared Owl and Great Horned Owl have been spotted visiting the area.

If you find a baby owl on the ground, it is being cared for by its parents. During the first stages of life it will have difficulty flying and is termed a “brancher,” which means it hops and flops, but it is being directed by adult owls. Our first reaction is: “how cute,” “pick it up,” “help it;” however, it doesn’t need us!

Keep your eyes and ears peeled for the deep bass notes or soprano tunes of the owls living in our South Hills natural areas.

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