Adorable, powerful, mystical, magical, intriguing are all words that can be used to describe owls.
There is something about the lure of an owl that makes you want to spend as much time with it as you can. As a birder, there is a fine line between observing and harassing – and then there are the questions of which owls are okay to stand and gawk at?
a Barred Owl from Jonathan Wood’s Extreme Raptor show
This Great Planet aims to educate the novice birder or naturalist or just those interested. This article is strictly the editor’s opinion and view point. There are many varying viewpoints about the subject.
WHAT IS OKAY?
Some will argue that if the owl is diurnal (active in the daytime) it is okay to post location updates (and I tend to agree.) As long as observers keep a respectable distance and don’t do things that will knowingly agitate the owl. Others say NO OWL’s location should ever be broadcast.
They are beautiful creatures, and we’d all love that better look or amazing photo, right?
WHAT IS NOT OKAY?
There are reports (and videos) of photographers “baiting” Great Grey owls with mice tossed into the snow to get that money shot of it pouncing on the prey. Is that fair?
Owl roosting sights should be treaded on lightly. Barn Owls frequently roost in old and abandoned buildings and structures. If you find yourself walking past a “do not enter” sign, you are probably not doing the right thing.
a Barn Owl from Jonathan Wood’s Extreme Raptor show
I’ve heard stories of people walking up to roosting Long-Eared Owls in North Jersey and “petting them.” Um, kind of dumb, since some species of owls have talon strengths of up to 500 PSI of pressure (for perspective your car’s tire is recommended to be maintained at 36 PSI)
Playing tapes is another way of luring in owls… it tricks them to think there is another owl in its territory, and stresses the owl to the point it may fly in to investigate. The problem is, larger owls may be lurking and yes, they do eat the smaller owls…. (so much for that cute, cuddly image, eh? Would that be worth it to you to see one of the smaller owls?)
a Saw Whet Owl from a banding demo years ago
SNOWY OWL INVASION
In the last week, MULTIPLE reports of Snowy Owls have turned up in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. If you try to compare simultaneous reports (to try to eliminate individuals who have moved on,) it is possible there are just shy of double digit individuals known to be in the Northeast.
A digiscoped and heavily cropped photo of the Snowy Owl at Sandy Hook
This week, AT LEAST two individuals (possibly three or four) showed up at Sandy Hook, NJ. Yes, I was right there, with the masses dying to get my looks… and was up and out the door early on Saturday morning freezing my backside off. But I also made sure to give scope looks and tell the story to any young birder in attendance!
ADDITONAL SECURITY CONCERNS AT SANDY HOOK
Security concerns around ongoing dredging work (which is scheduled to continue for the next six months) further complicate matters – a little orange fence is located at the Fisherman’s trail. My interpretation of the fence was – as long as I stay behind that “imaginary line” I am in compliance – so I walked down to the water, only to have a security guard from the dredging company drive his truck over and lecture me…. Yup, guilty, I crossed a line because I had the fever.
WAS THIS OKAY TO DO?
Now granted, it wasn’t as bad as what I witnessed this weekend (photographers belly crawling in dunes to get the perfect view of the Snowy Owl at Sandy Hook) (and all I could think of was I hope there is no Seabeach Amaranth in there.) But it made me pause and realize better judgment is easily clouded when curiosity gets the best of you.
Additionally, these stories spread like wildfire, and will ruin your reputation … so choose your actions carefully!
THE OWL AS THE EDUCATIONAL AMBASSADOR
an Eastern Screech Owl from Jonathan Wood’s Extreme Raptor show
I think it’s a great thing to share the locations of easily seen owls, especially as an educational tool. But one must balance that with promoting responsible behaviors.
Raptors are birds that the most novice or casual of birders can comprehend. They represent power, size and some are easily viewed. So it’s a good thing to help educate about them, right? There is a great story to be told about why a young Snowy Owl travels from the Arctic with a dozen of his friends in search of food. (A great lesson in survival and adaptation.)
As for my photos, Well, I only post those of captive (educational) birds or the grainy, digiscoped, heavily cropped photos – I’d rather post those than further stress a poor creature that is hungry and tired from a long journey.
INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE?
Visit the Raptor Trust in North NJ (maybe even participate in an owl prowl) http://theraptortrust.org/
Or check out these articles:
Got Snowies? Published 11/30/11 on eBird http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/got-snowies/
The origin of the Snowy Owl invasion (Sibley Guides) http://www.sibleyguides.com/2012/01/the-origin-of-the-snowy-owl-invasion/
Check out your local Audubon Society’s website as well for special programs.
FEEL FREE TO LEAVE YOUR THOUGHTS IN THE COMMENTS SECTION- THERE ARE MANY VARYING OPINIONS ON THIS TOPIC.
the editor’s wedding cake… No owls were harmed in the making of that cake topper