No Holds Barred

It all started last year, the night of 2007 Wild in the City.  I went outside to aviary to get our Barred Owl for a short interpretation at the event.  We had decided to keep the birds out a little later that particular evening so the public would have a chance to view them.  It was just getting to be dark as I stepped out from the aviary with the Barred Owl on my arm.  All of a sudden, there was another Barred Owl hooting and flapping its wings in my face!  I was confused for a moment, wondering if I was seeing double!  I saw our owl on my fist and a second owl trying to attack it!  It seemed that the moment I realized what was happening, it was over.  Our education bird and I had both come out of this attack unscathed: we’d just had our feathers a little ruffled, so to speak.

Several weeks later, two of the other naturalists were taking bring education birds out to the weathering area in the morning.  There is a large tree that we pass on the way to the aviary and up in this tree sat the wild Barred Owl.  She sat ready to attack, perhaps hoping to swoop down on our Barred owl as he passed by.  The wild owl, who we presume to be a female because of her large size, didn’t get the chance to attack that morning.  Just as she was making her silent descent from the tree, she was intercepted by a scrappy little Sharp Shinned Hawk.  The interaction between the two was amazing.  Melanie, an LNC naturalist, was able to capture some of the midair battle.

About a month later, after things had quieted down a bit, I had yet another scuffle with this ferocious feathered femme fatale.  It was a regular afternoon and at 5 p.m I was ready to bring the education Barred Owl from the aviary to the mews for the night.  Out of nowhere, the wild Barred Owl swooped down and attached herself to the education bird on my arm.  It was a crazy ball of frenzied feathers and beak clacking and hooting!  I knew that I had to get this crazy wild bird away from our elderly education bird.  With one hand I grabbed the wild owl and launched her into the air like a football.  I think we were all three in shock, but thank goodness she flew off and no one was hurt.

The attacks seem to have decreased, but they continue off and on to this day – more than a year later.  Although most of the recent attacks have been on the handlers rather than on our bird, these acts of hostility are probably aimed at the resident Barred Owl.  After doing considerable research, I discovered another similar series of attacks.  A very hostile Barred owl in Washington State harassed joggers on a hiking trail.  The likely explanation is that the owls are defending their territory during nesting.

Barred Owls have a long breeding season, which allows the female to lay a replacement clutch if the first eggs are lost.  Courtship usually begins in February with breeding occurring between March and August.  The males hoot and the females give a response call.  Our resident owl is quite chatty; perhaps the wild owl is answering his hoots.  These owls are monogamous and use the same nest year after year (if the nest is not destroyed).  Perhaps this is her territory and she is just here to stay; or, maybe, our bird has a stalker for life!  Either way, I kind of enjoy her presence.  She’s one tough bird and she definitely doesn’t hold back!

For more photos of the wild owl, browse the picture gallery.  You can also check out our Barred Owl's page.

Sitting in the Tree near the Outdoor Bird Exhibit.

Owl and Hawk Interact.

Resting and Waiting.

Just Enjoying the Scenery.

 

Article by LNC Naturalist Marielle Klemushin
Photos by LNC Naturalist Melanie Haut)