By Susan Thurn,
Cable Natural History Museum
I’ll never forget the time I called in a barred owl using my voice, only to have both the owl and myself experience being dive-bombed by woodpeckers. Or the other time I called in five owls all part of the neighborhood around the house. I’ve been practicing a barred owl call for many years now, and its who-cooks-for-you song is noticeable enough in the forest to make it one of the most-known owls in our northwoods environment. It is with constant amazement and utter respect that I interact with these birds in our area.
A barred owl enjoys a variety of habitats that include deep, moist forested areas, wooded swamps and woodlands near wetland areas, preferring larger forest tracts. Their territory is thought to be up to one square mile of land. Barred owls eat small mammals such as voles, mice, shrews, squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks. They also will eat birds up to the size of a grouse, woodpeckers, and even smaller owls, and are known to take prey from around bird feeders. They catch birds as prey at dusk when the birds are settling in to roost for the night, as the barred owl cannot usually take them while in flight. They also will eat bats, snakes, frogs, salamanders, mollusks, and insects. They have even been observed wading in water in search of crayfish and fish. In fact, the feathers on the front belly of the barred owl can sometimes have a pink tinge, possibly due to eating crayfish. In winter, barred owls rely on their excellent hearing to focus in on animals burrowing through snow.
Barred owls hunt mostly at dusk and night-time by sitting on a high perch and looking and listening for prey. They then catch their prey during a short flight to the ground. During the day they hide in dense foliage, usually high above us. They also roost on a branch close to the trunk, or in a natural tree hold.
A very territorial bird, barred owls use vocalizations that are more extensive than their familiar who-cooks-for-you. When feeling very territorial, they move from a short bark into a monkey-like call that is amazing to hear. To me these owls represent one of the best creatures of the northwoods. Their beauty, their night call, are all worthy of admiration.
For over 42 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and exhibit, On Lake Owen: The Art of Walter Bohl, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Also find us on the web at www.cablemuseum.org to learn more about our exhibits and programs.