Animal Tails: Owls can be real hoot

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 Photo courtesy of Metro Parks
 The great horned owl takes flight. It is the largest owl in Ohio and the largest eared owl in North America. They have been known to inhabit Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park for its forest environment.

If you are someone who is fascinated by owls, now is the time to get a glimpse.

Eight species of owl have been found at Metro Parks and they are more active in the winter months. According to Peg Hanley, public information officer at Metro Parks, it is calling season so the parks offer opportunities for people to listen, look and learn about the silent flyers.

Although there are eight different types of owls found in central Ohio, only four are more commonly seen. They are the barred owl, eastern screech owl, great horned owl and the short-eared owl.

Barred owl

If you hear an owl at night, it is most likely the barred owl. It has a very distinct call that comes in measures of eight and sounds like it is saying "who cooks for you, who cooks for you all."

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), the barred owl has large brown eyes, instead of the more common yellow eyes. They live in large tracts of forest or swampy wet woods and hunt small mammals and large insects. The barred owl can be heard and sometimes seen at Blacklick Woods, Highbanks and Slate Run Metro Parks.

Eastern screech owl

The eastern screech owl is Ohio’s most common owl and is a permanent resident here.

They are smaller in size and live in towns, orchards and small woodlots.

"They have the broadest ecological niches," said Hanley. "They can live in fields, prairies and woods. They do well in suburbs."

According to ODNR, they come in two distinct color morphs. The birds are either uniformly gray or yellowish pink to moderate orange, with darker streaking on the body.

Their color allows them to blend in with the bark of trees.

The eastern screech owl is known to be aggressive around its nest. It has been reported that they will fly down and strike a person on the head if you get too close.

Hanley explained that their call has been described as a sad wail or a quivering voice. These owls can be found at all the Metro Parks but are more commonly spotted or heard at Highbanks and Slate Run.

Great horned owl

This owl is the largest of Ohio’s resident owls and the largest eared owl in North America. Hanley explained that its wingspan is approximately 60 inches and the hunter is considered the top bird of prey, fearing no creature but man. They are elusive animals but have been spotted at Darby Creek Metro Park.

"They like to take over old trees," said Hanley. "They like open fields for hunting but ones that are close to woods and Darby is so forested, it’s perfect for this owl."

The ODNR explains that the number of great horned owls have declined due to development in the state. It feeds on small rodents, small cats, chickens, rabbits and even other owls and birds.

"The great horned owl is sometimes called the night tiger," said Hanley. "They lay low during the day then just perch in a tree, looking for prey. They are very skilled hunters."

She said owl enthusiasts should listen for its deeply resonated call, consisting of four to seven hoots. In addition to Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park, the great horned owl can also be found at Highbanks and Glacier Ridge.

Short-eared owl

The short-eared owl is the most commonly spotted owl because they fly and hunt in the late afternoon. Hanley explained that sunrise and sunset is the best time to spot them.

This crow-sized bird is best identified by its flight – it flutters low to the ground, like a moth.

According to ODNR, this owl is silent, except for a squabbling noise it makes at its nest. They live in grasslands and are sometimes call the prairie owl. The ear tufts are short (hence the name) and barely visible. They eat small mammals. This owl can be found at Darby Creek, Glacier Ridge and Pickerington Ponds Metro Parks.

Darby owl events

Battelle Darby Creek Park is offering preschoolers a chance to learn about owls. The children will hear stories about owls and play games. This takes place Dec. 11 at 9:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. and on Dec. 28 at 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. The class will meet at the Cedar Ridge Lodge.

On Jan. 5 at 5:30 p.m., Darby will host What a Hoot, where naturalists will try to lure in owls for a closer view while on a two-mile hike. Meet at the Indian Ridge Bulletin Board.

On Feb. 3 at 6 p.m., the park invites visitors to explore the Owls of February. Meet at the Indian Ridge Bulletin Board.

Hanley said these programs are free and they are a great chance to learn about owls.

"There is so much myth about owls," she said. "We go into the way owls are portrayed throughout history."

For additional information on programs at Metro Parks, log onto www.metroparks.net or call 891-0700.

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