Early Nesters

Spring is when we see a boom in bird activity. Many of them are singing songs to find mates and creating nests for eggs. One species, however, has had plenty of time to ready itself for parenthood. By the time most other birds begin trying to find a mate, barred owls have already found theirs. The barred owl is one of a handful of bird species in Michigan that can have its eggs incubating by the first days of spring. Courtship for this species begins in February. During courtship, males and females will bow to each other, flap their wings and even groom each other. While that may not sound romantic to us, it allows the pair to strengthen their bond. Often, the same pair will mate in the following years. Each year, a pair will raise one group of offspring. The nest is typically in a tree cavity lined with just a few feathers. When the female is ready, she can lay two or three eggs. The male will bring the female food as she sits on the eggs to keep them warm. She will sit on them for around 30 days, then fluffy white owlets hatch with quite an appetite. The parents will bring the youngsters the same good they eat, mostly small rodents. The only difference is the adults will shred bits of meat with their sharp beaks for the small owlets to ingest. The young birds will remain eating and growing rapidly within their nest for close to a month. Then they are considered fledglings and will venture out of the tree hollow. Fledglings begin their adventures outside the nest by hopping from limb to limb and flapping their flightless wings. This allows them to strengthen muscles needed to survive on their own. Young fledglings still have their baby fluff, but the adult feathers are on their way. By the end of the summer and early fall, this year’s baby barred owls will be ready to take on the world without the care of their parents. When the birds are on their own, you may hear their classic call of “who cooks for you?” It is a common vocalization that can be heard in any forest with barred owl activity Next time you are near woods just after dark, take a moment to listen for this species’ call.   Owl Facts
  • Barred owls have special frills on the edges of their feathers. This allows them to fly almost silently through the forest. Their quiet movement helps them sneak up on prey.
  • Like many birds of prey, barred owls cannot digest fur, feathers or bones. The birds have a special organ called a gizzard that will hold the indigestible parts and allow the soft tissues to pass for further processing. The parts left in the gizzard will be compacted into an oval-shaped pellet that is then regurgitated by the bird. Pellets can be a fun science experiment. You can dissect them and identify what the bird has had for dinner.
  • Barred owls have a diverse diet. They have been known to eat frogs, salamanders, fish and mammals of various sizes.
  • The oldest barred owl in the wild was 24 years old. It was first recorded in 1986, then it was found wrapped in fishing line in 2010.
  • To help this species thrive, leave dead trees that have been trimmed safely in your yard. By doing this, you may provide a nest site for a pair of owls. You can also help by picking up stray plastic and fishing line when you see it.

Spring is when we see a boom in bird activity. Many of them are singing songs to find mates and creating nests for eggs. One species, however, has had plenty of time to ready itself for parenthood. By the time most other birds begin trying to find a mate, barred owls have already found theirs. The barred owl is one of a handful of bird species in Michigan that can have its eggs incubating by the first days of spring.

Courtship for this species begins in February. During courtship, males and females will bow to each other, flap their wings and even groom each other. While that may not sound romantic to us, it allows the pair to strengthen their bond. Often, the same pair will mate in the following years.

Each year, a pair will raise one group of offspring. The nest is typically in a tree cavity lined with just a few feathers. When the female is ready, she can lay two or three eggs. The male will bring the female food as she sits on the eggs to keep them warm. She will sit on them for around 30 days, then fluffy white owlets hatch with quite an appetite. The parents will bring the youngsters the same good they eat, mostly small rodents. The only difference is the adults will shred bits of meat with their sharp beaks for the small owlets to ingest. The young birds will remain eating and growing rapidly within their nest for close to a month. Then they are considered fledglings and will venture out of the tree hollow.

Fledglings begin their adventures outside the nest by hopping from limb to limb and flapping their flightless wings. This allows them to strengthen muscles needed to survive on their own. Young fledglings still have their baby fluff, but the adult feathers are on their way. By the end of the summer and early fall, this year’s baby barred owls will be ready to take on the world without the care of their parents.

When the birds are on their own, you may hear their classic call of “who cooks for you?” It is a common vocalization that can be heard in any forest with barred owl activity Next time you are near woods just after dark, take a moment to listen for this species’ call.

 

Owl Facts

  • Barred owls have special frills on the edges of their feathers. This allows them to fly almost silently through the forest. Their quiet movement helps them sneak up on prey.
  • Like many birds of prey, barred owls cannot digest fur, feathers or bones. The birds have a special organ called a gizzard that will hold the indigestible parts and allow the soft tissues to pass for further processing. The parts left in the gizzard will be compacted into an oval-shaped pellet that is then regurgitated by the bird. Pellets can be a fun science experiment. You can dissect them and identify what the bird has had for dinner.
  • Barred owls have a diverse diet. They have been known to eat frogs, salamanders, fish and mammals of various sizes.
  • The oldest barred owl in the wild was 24 years old. It was first recorded in 1986, then it was found wrapped in fishing line in 2010.
  • To help this species thrive, leave dead trees that have been trimmed safely in your yard. By doing this, you may provide a nest site for a pair of owls. You can also help by picking up stray plastic and fishing line when you see it.

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