OWLS of Connecticut

OWLS of Connecticut

Jay Kaplan, Director of the Roaring Brook Nature Center, has given 2 presentations on the ‘Owls of Connecticut’. One on February 16, 2022,  and the other on December 12, 2022. 

What follows is a combined summary of those talks.

There are 19 species of owls in the United States. Owls are predators. The smallest owls in the world are elf owls. They live in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. The burrowing owl lives in Florida. It is the mascot of Florida Atlantic University. The northern spotted owl is listed as endangered. Logging was stopped in the national forests where spotted owls live, in hopes of protecting the species.

How do you find an owl?

How do you see owls when you are not in the woods? As the sun comes up, owls will sit in the entryways of their holes to warm up. This is especially true of screech owls.

When do owls lay their eggs?

Owls begin to lay their eggs in February. They don’t make their own nests. They may use an abandoned squirrel nest to raise their young.

A robin will lay a clutch of eggs over a period of a week. The robin will not begin to incubate her eggs until all of them have been laid. A mother owl will begin to incubate as soon as she has laid the first egg. Births will be staggered. The young grow very quickly. First-born owls have the best chance for success.

Owls who live in Connecticut

Barred owls, great horned owls and screech owls are the most common owls in Connecticut.

The first chick to hatch is the largest. The last is usually the smallest and weakest. Generally, not all of the young will survive. They will sometimes be eaten by their own families. As the young grow up, they stand at the edge of the nest to attempt flight. They often fall out of the nest, or stay on the branches. Their talons are very dangerous starting at an early age.

They eat mice and other small rodents, as well as large insects. Screech owls have a tough time in a lot of snow. This may cause them to move a bit south for the winter. They can’t eat large animals, so they wait for mice to cross plowed roads in winter. Mice will hide under the snow most of the time to keep warm.

Raptors get hit by cars more often in winter than at other times of the year because they hunt by the roadside.

Miscellaneous observations

Owls fly silently because the edges of their feathers are VERY soft. They can turn their heads 270 degrees, so they can see what is behind them. Their eyes are set in their sockets. They cannot move their eyes around in the way that people can.

Owl ears are slots on both sides of their heads. They do not have ear lobes like people do. The ears are offset. One is higher than the other. The round face of an owl brings sound waves to his ears. This amplifies the sound. It is similar to the effect that we humans get when we cup our ears. Owls use their excellent hearing to find prey.

Birds sing to mate and to establish territory. Owls are VERY emotional. They can get quite violent with each other during the breeding season.

As noted above, most birds have a poor sense of smell. People once though that a mother bird would reject a lost baby bird who was put back into her nest. Most often, the mom will take the young bird under her wing. As Jay said, “Birds can’t count.”.

There is just enough food in a territory to support one pair of owls over a winter. Adult owls will drive juveniles out, forcing them to make their own way in another location.

Owls have eruptive years. People once thought that snowy owls came to places like Connecticut because of a bad year for food in the north. Now they believe that owls come here because food was plentiful, with many young birds surviving.

Where to learn more about owls

Jay encouraged us to visit The Roaring Brook Nature Center to take part in their activities and to see live birds. You can learn more at roaringbrook.org.

Please visit allaboutbirds.org and audubon.org to see stunning photo of owls, and to listen to recordings of their calls.

The Connecticut DEEP publishes a magazine called “Connecticut Wildlife”. Digital copies of this magazine are available at https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Wildlife/Connecticut-Wildlife-Magazine.

The digital issues are available for all years going back to 2000. The Berlin-Peck Memorial Library retains paper copies of the magazine for one year.

There are many things that we can do to help birds thrive in our state. One important step is to preserve land. Berlin Land Trust Preserves provide much-needed habitat for owls and other birds. Please become a member of the Berlin Land Trust. Your membership will help protect the land that owls and other wild creatures depend on.