“Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all!”
The call of the Barred Owl is one of the most surprising and unique sounds to emanate from our woodlands each spring. This medium-sized, round-headed owl with dark brown eyes is the most common of our local owls. Barred owls live in mixed deciduous forests throughout Canton. They usually begin calling at dusk in mid-March and will continue through spring and much of the summer.
Two or three white eggs are laid in a tree cavity in mid to late March, hatching in about 28 days. The young remain in the safety of the nest for 42 days. In our area, young owls can sometimes be seen about the first week in June sitting at the edge of a tree cavity waiting to take their first, short flight into the surrounding trees.
A pair of Barred Owls often nests right along one of the main trails at Roaring Brook Nature Center and young can be heard and even seen along the trails during the summer months. Other reliable places in which to find them include Great Pond State Forest in Simsbury or McLean Game Refuge in Granby.
The Great Horned Owl is our largest resident owl and it prefers larger, mature stands of trees in which to nest. Great Horned owls are the first birds to nest in our area. They begin calling for mates at the beginning of the New Year and can be sitting on eggs by late February. They can sometimes be heard or even seen in North Canton, in the woodlands surrounding Nepaug Reservoir or in West Hartford’s reservoir lands.
Great Horned Owls do not build their own nests, instead using an old crow, hawk or even squirrel nest on which to lay their eggs. The eggs will hatch as spring arrives, providing the hungry young fresh sources of food as animals venture from their winter hiding places and birds begin returning from the south. Pound for pound, the Great Horned Owl is the most powerful predator in the forest. Adult Great Horned Owls eat a wide range of prey including rabbits, opossums, woodchucks, snakes, birds, and even house cats. With a poorly developed sense of smell and a third eyelid called a nictitating membrane to protect their eyes, Great Horned Owls are one of the few predators that feed upon skunks.
The third of our resident owls is the much smaller eastern Screech Owl. Screech Owls will nest close to developed areas because in deeper woods they would be a suitable prey item for the larger Barred and Great Horned Owls. Screech Owls can be found in Collinsville, along the bike trails throughout the Farmington Valley, and even along Hopmeadow Street in the center of Simsbury, using the many cavities to be found in large sycamore trees. Screech Owls come in several color phases including gray, red and an intermediate brown phase. Their call is reminiscent to a whinnying horse.
Other species of owls are rare in the Valley. The owl that most people would love to see is the Snowy Owl. These large birds live far to our north. In winters when food is scarce, these magnificent owls sometimes move south into Connecticut in search of food. They are open country birds and are more likely to found along the coast. In a year with a significant southward movement of Snowy Owls, they may be looked for in large open areas like pastures or perhaps on a golf course or the edge of a large body of water.
The one northern owl that occurs, but is difficult to find in the Valley is our smallest eastern owl, the Saw-whet Owl. These diminutive owls are but the size of a bluebird (7”) and are usually found in stands of dense evergreens like spruce, cedar or hemlock. Their calls are a soft series of hoots, somewhat reminiscent of a truck backing up in the distance.
Owls have been loved, revered, and feared by cultures throughout history. Although we may not often see them, owls are found throughout the area and they are a valuable component of our natural world.
To learn more, visit www.roaringbrook.org or contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Children’s Museum and Roaring Brook Nature Center are the region’s premiere destinations for science and nature exploration.