(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)
BIRDS OF PREY: These iconic birds are quite the predators in the NE Washington ecosystem…
When it comes to night time, what would it be without the hoot of an owl?
Popular in our culture as either the Disney character Archimedes from “Sword in the Stone” who is constantly wondering why he is hanging out with a wizard, or the simply titled “Owl” from Winnie the Pooh who is both sage and a little kooky, let’s just be honest: owls are really interesting.
The Chewelah area has a plethora of great horned owls which are sometimes known as the tiger owl or the hoot owl (which coincidentally is also the name of loggers who work in weird hours of the day).
They’re one of the largest owls in the area, as adult horned owls typically have a wingspan of three to five feet and can weigh as much as five pounds.
While Archamedes might be in a cartoon complaining about rain in his birdhouse, the real-life counterpart is almost a super predator. They are highly sedentary and may use a single territory of nearly a square mile or several square miles this entire life.
You’ve no doubt heard them, they’re the ones going “ho-ho hoo hoo hoo” at night. The nocturnal birds have big yellow eyes, perfect for dusk and dawn hunting. Owls have more “rods” in their eyes which let in more light for viewing at night.
“If you look at their eye color, you can usually tell if they are a night-time owl,” WDFW raptor and owl expert Candace Bennett said.
“Night-time owls have dark- colored eyes while yellow colored eyes means they hunt in dusk and dawn.”
These birds get work done, and can remove upwards of a 1,000 rodents each year.
“They’re very smart animals,” Bennett said. “Some owls have been recorded as eating as many as 4,000 rodents a year.”
Owl features and wingspans are “frayed,” which means they don’t make any noise when swooping down. They don’t like staying on the ground very often because this is where they’re most vulnerable. They also have an over-eating problem, as sometimes owls can eat so much they can’t fly back up (We’ve all been there, folks, haven’t we?).
The crux of the owls’ predator abilities lie in their huge talons. From talon to talon, a great horned owl can have a span of nearly eight inches. They’ve been known to also prey on pets, small dogs, cats and even other birds like chickens.
“They’re also one of the few predators that eat skunks,” Bennett said.
The great horned owl is very common, as is the barn owl, which used to seek out cavities and covered areas before man, and has since taken a liking to people’s farm structures. There is also the barred owl and the western screech owl in the NE Washington roster. The smaller northern saw-whet owl also occupies the area and only stands six inches tall.
It’s been reported that sometimes the famed white snowy owls migrate down from Canada into the area as well.
Owls are interesting because they’re just so different from other types of birds. Instead of having eyes on either side of the face, they have something of a human face. This is better to zero-in on prey while forward facing with binocular vision. Their faces are dish shaped to better funnel in noise as well.
“Their ears are asymmetrical with one ear perched differently so they can better triangulate sounds from prey like mice,” Bennett said.
Smaller owls may even go after bugs for a snack as well.
One of the misconceptions with owls is people worry about the owletts after they fledge from the nest. Owletts will drop from the nest onto the ground, and while it may appear they have been abandoned, the mother is usually not far away.
“Just leave them be and they’ll eventually crawl back up to the nest with their beak and talons,” Bennett said.
So if you hear some hooting, just know that these birds are probably keeping your mouse problem under control!