Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Winter Owl Spotting

Can you identify this well-camouflaged owl?
Image by Kevinsphotos from Pixabay

Though most of us prefer to be out in nature in spring through autumn, winter is actually a great time for spotting and listening for owls. Bare trees make it easier to see at dawn and dusk when many owls are active.

New Jersey’s year-round owls include great horned, Eastern screech, barred and, less common, short-eared, long-eared, barn and saw-whet owls. 

In winter, you can also see snowy owls and short-eared, long-eared, and saw-whet owls from the north that migrate to our warmer climate in search of a steadier food supply. Barn owls usually migrate further south from New Jersey in winter, but there may be a few that stay.

Giselle Chazot Smisko, director of the Avian Wildlife Center in Wantage advises looking carefully in those bare branches at dawn and dusk as owls may nap in tree branches during daylight hours. Owls can camouflage themselves very well.

Of course, you can also listen for their distinctive calls. It is also possible to find signs of an owl's roosting place by finding chalky white droppings and grey owl pellets of indigestible bones and fur in the area below a tree. (They are not "owl poop" but rather regurgitated parts and they are frequently opened up in science lessons to show what the owl had eaten.)

If you want a guaranteed owl spotting (especially with children), visit the Raptor Trust or the Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge. Both have resident owls that have been injured and cannot survive in the wild. The Avian Wildlife Center, Raptor Trust, and Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge also provide public education programs at various locations using “ambassador” owls.


Cornell Ornithology Lab’s “All About Birds” website 

National Audubon Society’s guide to North American birds

New Jersey Conservation Foundation and njconservation.org/owl-spotting-in-winter/

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