Jay Kaplan, Director of the Roaring Brook Nature Center, gave an online presentation titled ‘Owls of Connecticut’ on February 16, 2022. Here is a summary of his talk.
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.
Which owl species live in Connecticut?
Barred owls, great horned owls and screech owls are the most common owls in Connecticut. Barred owls are the most common of the three. There are many barred owls in Berlin. Their song, “who-cooks-for-you?” is easy to recognize. They eat frogs, crayfish, birds, and snakes. They will eat anything that they can catch. If you have a great horned owl in your yard, you will not see barred owls. Big owls eat smaller owls. Barred owls in the western U.S. will eat northern spotted owls.
The great horned owl weighs about 4 pounds. It is the most powerful predator in the forest. Great horned owls will eat birds, mice, chipmunks, and squirrels. They are the only predators who eat skunks. How is it possible for these owls to eat skunks? Birds don’t have much of a sense of smell. Owls have a third clear eyelid which protects their eyes, but allows them to see. This eyelid will protect their eyes from the spray of skunks.
Screech owls are not found in the woods. They live along rivers, wetlands and in built-up communities. They nest in backyards. We may not know that they are there. Cavities in sycamores are ideal nesting spots for these birds. Their plumage might be grey, red, or an intermediate brown. Their call sounds a bit like a whinnying horse. They eat mice and other small rodents, as well as large insects. Screech owls have trouble finding prey in winter, because mice run under the snow. This may cause the birds to move a bit south for the winter.
Raptors get hit by cars more often in winter than at other times of the year. They hunt by the roadside because mice run under the snow. The mice become visible to raptors when they cross roads.
Saw-whet owls are less common in our state. They arrive in November, and depart in March. We rarely see them. They live in evergreen trees, and are good at camouflage. The sound that they make is similar to a back-up alarm on a truck.
The long-eared owl is rare in our state.
Short-eared owls are found in open farmland in upstate New York. Connecticut has little of that type of habitat.
Barn owls are not common in Connecticut. They are generally found further south and west. They are found on every continent but Antarctica, yet are endangered in Connecticut. Their song is the scariest birdsong that Jay has ever heard. They can be helpful to farmers because they catch rodents.
We sometimes see snowy owls in Connecticut in winter. They live far north on the tundra. They often go to the shoreline when they come to our state. They are active day or night. They may weigh up to 5 pounds.
Great grey owls are rarely seen. Rarer still is the hawk owl, last seen in Connecticut in 1934.
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 holes beneath their feathers. Their ears are offset. One is higher than the other. Owls use their excellent hearing to find prey.
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 elsewhere.
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.
The Roaring Brook Nature Center offers a full moon walk each month, and bird walks in the spring. Participants have seen as many as 50 birds on the spring bird walks. Learn more at roaringbrook.org. Connecticut Audubon and many nature centers also offer owl prowls.
Please visit allaboutbirds.org and audubon.org to see stunning photo of owls, and to listen to recordings of their calls.