Sunday, March 1, 2015

Jersey Owls

There are eighteen species of owls in North America and 8 of them can be found in the Garden State.

  1. Barn Owl
  2. Barred Owl 
  3. Eastern Screech Owl
  4. Northern Saw-whet Owl
  5. Short-eared Owl 
  6. Long-eared Owl
  7. Great horned Owl
  8. Snowy Owl

On New Jersey's endangered list is the Short-Eared Owl. The number of Short-eared Owls that overwinter in New Jersey varies from year to year. However, breeding Short-eared Owls are considered endangered. The species may no longer even nest in NJ, although at one time small numbers were known to do so.

They are considered to be a large owl, reaching a height of 16 inches /40 cm (Like other species of owls, the female is larger than the male).  They have small “ear” tufts (not actually ears) on a large, round head. Their underparts are heavily streaked and their face area has dark patches, with yellow eyes. 

You might see a Short-eared Owl in open habitats such as uncultivated fields, pastures, airports, and fresh and saltwater marshes. They are not a woodland species, but during the winter they will roost in trees.

On the state's threatened list are both the Long-Eared Owl and the Barred Owl.

Long-eared owl
The Long-eared owl is slender and about 12-15 inches.

It has distinctive long "ear" tufts similar to the Great Horned Owl but closer together. The facial disk is chestnut colored. The breast and belly are streaked and barred.

Long-eared Owls might be found in dense coniferous forests or mixed forests consisting of deciduous and evergreen trees. They roost communally with 2-20 birds living together. They hunt at night in nearby fields and meadows.

Like most owls, their preferred prey include voles and field mice, but bats, moles, rabbits and various species of birds are occasionally captured.


Barred Owl

The Barred Owl is located statewide but the greatest concentrations are in the northern and southern parts of New Jersey (Sussex, Passaic, Morris and Burlington, Cumberland, Atlantic and Cape May counties) where wetland habitat helps them survive. Conversely, development pressures in counties like Bergen, Essex, Union, Middlesex, Mercer, Hunterdon, Salem, Gloucester and Camden have reduced or eliminated the barred owl's habitat.

In addition to loss of habitat, barred owls can be killed by being hit by vehicles, electrocuted, poisoned. and by Great Horned Owls who prey on them and other owl species except for the Snowy Owl.

Fragmentation of forest habitat due to logging and rights-of-way for utilities has resulted in habitat that is more suitable for Great Horned Owls which puts predatory pressure on barred owls.


Its large size (20 inches tall - 25 cm), rounded head, lack of "ear" tufts, grayish-brown color with dark eyes and dark bars that run horizontal across its breast and vertically on its belly make Barred Owls easy to identify if you can find one. Females are similar in appearance but larger.

Barred Owls live in the deep forest and hide inside woodlands with a preference for coniferous or mixed coniferous and deciduous forests rather than strictly deciduous forests. Large tracts of woodlands are preferred to forests that have been highly fragmented. Within these dense stands of forest, proximity to water such as swamps, marshes, streams and lakes is preferred. At night they may be identified by their characteristic call of eight hoots that are in two groups of four: hoohoo-hoohoo followed by hoohoo-hoohoo-aw). This call has been analogized to sound like they are saying "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?"

The Barred Owl is a NON MIGRANT. Barred Owls (like Great Horned Owls and Eastern Screech Owls) remain in New Jersey throughout the year. They hunt in the evening and at night. Barred Owls are highly opportunistic and eat a large variety of prey. However, research studies show that Barred Owls rely heavily on voles, mice and shrews.



Saw-Whet

A Great Horned Owl's gaze

Great Horned Owl


Barn owl

a Snowy Owl at Cape May via https://twitter.com/gregroxphotos


Images: US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)

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