Sunday, July 31, 2011

Barred owl in my urban backyard

Barred owl II

Funny, just recently I was listing off all the animal friends I’ve seen in my urban backyard (here's the yard), because I discovered a ground hog is living under the shed (don’t tell my landlord! except I think he’s subscribed to this blog…):
  • ground hog
  • squirrel
  • bunny
  • mole
  • raccoon
  • possum
  • blue jay
  • dove
  • white-throated sparrow
  • tufted titmouse
  • cardinal
  • European sparrow
  • starling
  • red-bellied woodpecker
  • downy woodpecker
  • ruby-throated hummingbird
  • Carolina wren
  • robin
  • brown thrasher
  • crow
  • cowbird
  • garter snake
  • butterflies X many
  • cicada
  • slug
  • snail
  • all other insects
So, the blue jays reliably gang up and yell when cats wander through, but when there’s something more sinister they are much louder! Usually it's a hawk that I only see flying off and can't get a good look at, but at 10:00 this morning they were really going at it, at the back of the yard next door, and I went out to see if I could tell a cat to lay off, but I didn’t see anything even though I was only about 10 feet from the blue jays, and then a BARRED OWL took off from right over my head! I mean like FIVE FEET over my head!

Those things are BIG!

I hurried inside and grabbed my camera and he had conveniently relocated to a tree in my back yard. He was maybe 15 feet up.

Barred owl
Sorry about that leaf in his face.

The gang of blue jays were hysterical, and not in the good way. They were perched pretty dang close to the owl, mere feet away, shrieking and screaming and bouncing all over the place. If I was an owl, with exceptional hearing, and those jays were screaming 2 feet away from me, I’d be hard-pressed not to just leave, but he didn't.

When I made tiny squeaky noises, he’d look down right at me. He really didn’t seem too concerned about any of us.

Anyway then one of the blue jays just couldn’t take it anymore, and took a swipe at him:

Owl and blue jay

You can see his nictitating membrane as he reflexively closes his eyes! That’s what made his eye look hazy blue. They have 2 sets of eyelids, the nictitating one moves horizontally. It protects their eyes and they can still see through it.  I hear they have voluntary control over them. They close them when feeding their chicks, to protect their eyes from all that beak action. All kinds of animals have them—dogs-cats-polar bears-all birds-camels-aardvarks-most reptiles-amphibians-sharks…one source says that owls close them when flying at high speeds, so their eyes stay moist and clear, so they don’t miss anything. Peregrine falcons blink them repeatedly during their famous 200-mph dives.

It’s also called a “haw”.

(By the way, this was a completely lucky shot. I was using a point-and-shoot, with no tripod, on full zoom, just clicking and clicking…I had no idea)

Owl launching

Well, after that, I guess Owl was finally fed up, and he launched himself off to another tree (only about 15 feet away), and I got THIS awesome shot, which I also didn’t know I was getting until I looked at the pics later. Those feet can tear your face off.

I looked at him some more, and he looked at me some more.

This made my morning.

*Edit: he was there later in the evening, around 6:00, and I called a friend who came and looked too, and she noticed there was a hummingbird having a go at him! Flitting at him, then landing a foot away, buzzing him again, etc. 
Hummingbirds are pretty fearless, maybe because the whole world moves in slow motion for them.