February Bird Atlas Tips – Finding Owls
Winter is a great time to find owls because our winter resident population swells with an influx of migrants from the north that think our Virginia temperatures are quite nice (though they may be having second thoughts this winter). We can always use more owl sightings for our Loudoun County Bird Atlas Project so this month’s email, inspired by Paul Engman’s recent Natural History of Owls program, will be devoted to owls.
1. An atlaser was treated to a Short-eared Owl on her property in the Round Hill 4 block.
2. The LWC-sponsored Birds of Prey trip provided fantastic looks at a Barred Owl, Kestrels hovering for mice, Northern Harriers hunting, and a flock of Horned Larks.
3. Pine Warbler documented during the Central Loudoun CBC in the Lincoln 4 block.
1. The atlas training/refresher session is scheduled for Sunday, February 6th from 1:30 – 3:00 p.m. at the Rust Library in Leesburg. If you haven’t already, please Sign Up if you plan to attend.
2. If you observe/hear a Rusty Blackbird while atlasing between Jan 29th and Feb 13th consider entering your sighting for the Rusty Blackbird Blitz. See http://nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/MigratoryBirds/Research/Rusty_Blackbird/blitz.cfm for more information.
Tips for finding Owls (provided by Paul Engman)
1. Your best bet for finding owls is to look for roost sites in the daytime. Habitat is important! Dense stands of conifers in the winter are good for thermoregulating, especially when in association with farmland and open fields.
2. Check tree cavities for breeding owls and look for pellets (regurgitated, indigestible material).
3. Look for crows or other birds mobbing an area and you may find an owl roosting.
4. Be respectful of owls (and all creatures); do not surround them or flush them. Flushing a Screech Owl during the day may result in him becoming a tasty meal for a Cooper’s Hawk!
5. Great Horned Owls entered into safe dates on December 15th. They’ll be laying eggs this month and raising their young in March. One advantage of being an early nester is that the young learn how to hunt when their prey are inexperienced newborns (i.e. easy pickin’s).
Species of the Month – Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
- Prefers open grasslands and extensive broomsedge fields.
- Most diurnal of our owls in Loudoun. Best time to look for them is from late afternoon until dark on cloudy days. They fly low over open ground when hunting, locating prey by ear.
- Often roosts communally with Northern Harriers so if you see a Harrier during a daytime atlas trip check back at that location before dark for the Short-eared Owl.
Information taken from Paul Engman’s Natural History of Owls program held on January 12, 2011 at the Purcellville Library. This program was hosted by the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.
57 enthusiastic atlasers have spent 2,260 hours in the field documenting 24,580 sightings. You have recorded 225 species, with 97 of these species having a confirmed nesting status. Field cards have been reported for 39 blocks and 3 blocks are considered complete.
Loudoun County Bird Atlas Coordinator