Wild Birds Unlimited – Omaha, NE

September 26, 2016

Owls – Creatures of the Night

Filed under: Birds,Nesting,Owl — wbuomaha @ 12:03 pm
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That owls are “wise” may be a myth, unless you define “wise” as being accomplished in night hunting. With their hooked bills and sharp talons, they are similar to other birds that hunt, such as hawks and eagles, but there are striking differences that make owls the perfect nocturnal predators.

While most birds have eyes at the sides of their heads, the owl’s eyes face forward. Their eyes have many receptors in the retina which give them excellent vision in low light as well as daylight.

An owl’s keen sense of hearing is another advantage at night. Because its ear opening is higher on one side of its head than the opening on the other side, an owl can judge the direction of sound both vertically and horizontally. The feathers around its face are thought to help funnel sound into the ear openings.

Another advantage owls have is their nearly silent movement.  The leading feather of each wing has a serrated edge and the rest of the flight feathers have soft edges, too.  This, along with the fluffy body feathers, greatly muffles the sound of owls’ flight as they swoop down on unsuspecting prey.

Although all owls are predators, not all are nocturnal. For example, Burrowing Owls routinely hunt during the day. The three most common species in our area, Great Horned, Barred and Screech, all hunt primarily at night. Choice of prey varies with the size of the owl. Large owls, like the Great Horned, will hunt animals as large as rabbits, skunks, or geese. Small owls, like the Screech, live mainly on insects, frogs, mice and other small prey.

As the owl feeds, the indigestible parts of its meal, like bones, fur, and feathers, are formed into pellets, which will later be coughed up.

    Screech owls nest in cavities, such as old woodpecker holes or natural hollows.  They will also use nesting boxes, which Kenn Kaufmann, the famous ornithologist, credits with helping  to slow the decline in numbers of Screech Owls in areas where the natural habitat has been destroyed.

     Barred Owls will nest in an old hollow tree or broken off section of a decaying tree.  They will also take over an old nest of a hawk, crow or squirrel.

Great Horned Owls usually take over the high old nests of hawks, eagles, crows, or herons.  Occasionally they will also usurp a new crow’s nest.

Because many owls are nocturnal, they are often difficult to spot, but they are easily identified by their calls. If you hear a call that sounds like a horse, but you know there are no horses around, chances are it is the whinny call of the Screech Owl.  These owls also make a distinctive trilling, tremelo call.

The sound of the Barred Owl mimics the pneumonic “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”

And the Great Horned Owl, considered the “hoot owl”, makes a series of “hooo” sounds of varying lengths.

All three of these owls are year-round residents of our geographical area. Take a walk in the woods after dark, and you might just encounter one or more of these amazing creatures of the night.




February 24, 2015

Nesting: A Family Affair

Filed under: Birds,Nesting — wbuomaha @ 10:14 am
Tags: , ,

Flicker in nest hole

Spring brings us warm weather, a reawakening of perennial plants, and the most interesting and entertaining bird behavior. Over the next few months, you can witness all aspects of bird life – courting a mate, nest building, laying and incubating eggs, feeding hatchlings and fledglings as they venture out on their own. Providing nesting sites and nesting boxes will help to bring this experience to your backyard.

Courtship takes a variety of forms. Woodpeckers drum to attract a partner and establish their territory. They peck rapidly on trees, downspouts, your house, or any surface which will produce the desired sound – the louder the better. Other birds use songs to attract a mate. A male with a larger repertoire may be considered more attractive. Waterfowl bob their heads and flutter their wings to attract mates. Mourning doves and mockingbirds fluff out their feathers and dance. Blue jay and cardinal males offer their female partners a seed as a gift of affection.

Blue Jay w babies
Understanding the nesting behavior of a particular bird species and providing the habitat they prefer will increase the likelihood of them moving into your neighborhood. Birds that build open, cup shaped nests are called open-cup nesters. Cardinals and Robins are examples. Ground-nesting birds build their nests on the ground by constructing an open-cup nest or creating a shallow depression in the earth, sand or leaf litter. Birds that nest in cavities of trees, man-made structures or nesting boxes are called cavity-nesters.

Bluebird babies c
While birds prefer natural sites, cavity-nesting birds will willingly accept man-made nesting boxes placed in the right habitat. Examples of species that readily use properly located and appropriately built nesting boxes include wrens, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, bluebirds, woodpeckers, purple martins, kestrels, owls and wood ducks.
When the nestlings are large and strong enough, they leave the nest. In most cases the parents still protect and feed the fledglings until they become self-sufficient. During this time, the young can be quite susceptible to predators. Often, fledgling birds spend quite a bit of time on the ground while they are learning to fly. However, most young birds do not need to be ‘rescued.’ And rescuing them may disrupt the natural course of events.

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If you find a baby bird that you believe to be orphaned, you will need to determine if the bird is truly orphaned before you intervene. The best way to make this determination is to watch for at least two to three hours (from a concealed location) for the return of a parent. If the baby is not in danger from predators, it is best to leave it on the ground. If the fledgling is in danger, try to locate the nest and return the baby to it. It is not true that a bird will reject a baby that has been touched by humans.
If you determine that the baby is truly orphaned, call a wildlife rehabilitator. Having a native songbird in your possession without an appropriate license is illegal. In the meantime, keep the baby warm and physically supported in a makeshift nest (e.g. plastic berry box lined with paper towels) and follow any instructions given to you by the rehabilitator.
Once their first brood of young has been raised, many species will nest a second time. In some seasons, species such as robins, cardinals, bluebirds and mourning doves may raise three or more broods. habitat, you may be entertained all summer long with this avian family affair.

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