I get to spend most weekends helping out with the wildlife over at Whispering Willow Wild Care; lucky me! This past winter was a hard one on a lot of wild birds and we got many in. Now that the warm weather is back, WWWC and their unreleasable friends participate in educational programs to help people learn about these awesome animals.
Currently, there are three species of resident owls: eastern great horned owls (Bubo virginianus virginianus), barred owls (Strix varia), and eastern screech owls (Otus asio). We even got a pair of juvenile great horns in this spring and it’s been a hoot watching them grow! (check out this absolutely adorable video! https://www.facebook.com/WhisperingWillowWildCare/videos/vb.498875113504444/858621274196491/?type=3&theater)
Great horned owls are good sized birds. When my pups, 11-13 lbs (5-6 kg) full grown, were tiny little things, we couldn’t let them outside by themselves because we had a neighborhood great horn. Weight ranges on average between 985 g (2.2 lbs) to 2,503 g (5.5 lbs), with females being the largest. This may not seem like a lot of bird but they have hollow bones, which aids them in flight. They range between a length of 45-63 cm (17.7-24.8 in) and with a wingspan of 91-152 cm (35.8-60 in). And they’re strong. Rabbits are a favorite meal, but these owls will eat a large range of prey, from frogs and fish to raccoons and skunks and yes, even little puppies and cats. This particular species of owl can be found throughout eastern North America and they have a classic hoot that many people would recognize.
Barred owls are very populous over here in New York, and we have five of them to prove it. They too can be found throughout eastern North America but recently have also been found further west. These owls are smaller than the great horned owls, weighing in between 500-1,050 g (1.1-2.3 lb), with a length of 40-63 cm (16-25 in) and a wingspan of 96-125 cm (38-49 in). As almost all owls are carnivorous, it should be no surprise that the barreds go after rodents and small mammals, with the occasional smaller bird in as well. In addition to an owly hoot, barred owls also make a hissing sound and loudly clap their beaks together when they are agitated. As I was in their flight cage fixing high-up perches for a good two hours recently, they made it very clear to me they were tired of my presence. Interestingly, however, these owls seem to be quite docile, with wild birds that come in commonly having no issue with getting a friendly scratch on the head.
WWWC also has three eastern screech owls, and these are by far the smallest owls we currently have. These screech owls weigh between 121-244 g (4.2-8.6 oz). They can range between 19.5-23.8 cm (7.7-9.4 in) in length and have a wingspan of 46-61 cm (18-24 in). Again, an eastern North American resident, these owls can be a rusty redish color to brown, light grey to dark grey; these variations depend largely on habitat. They are excellent at blending into their surroundings and when we have one of our education screeches on his perch, with bark in the background, some people don’t at first even see him. Now, when annoyed these little guys make a really interesting sound. I know; they hate it when I clean them. It’s this high pitched trill that lets you have no mistake of what they mean. Get out!
These are the three species of owl we currently have living at WWWC, but there have been others, and of course we have a lot of other animals as well. Just a few weeks ago we had a gorgeous male Pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) that was, fortunately, able to be released.
Even if you are nowhere near Whispering Willow Wild Care, I’m willing to bet there is a wildlife rehabilitator somewhere near you. This information is good to have in case you ever come across an injured or orphaned animal. However, if you would like to donate money, supplies, or your time, I’m sure they’d be more than happy with that as well!