Monday, February 11, 2013

Barred Owl irruption

One of the more unnoticed irruptions this season has been that of the Barred Owl. It is naturally a nocturnal raptor that rarely hunts in daylight. The species also sticks to the woodlands as much as possible preferring large unbroken tracts of contiguous forest. However, beginning in November some odd sightings started being reported more frequently. One of the most notable was a bird or a couple of birds that hunted the city of New Haven! A bird was seen throughout the month, sometimes even during the day or evening, with crowds of people watching it at times. When an owl exhibits such behavior it is clearly a very hungry bird. Having so many people around it, birders or otherwise, only adds to the stress. In this situation it really found itself in a tough place being in an urban population center.

On other occasions people reported a Barred Owl flying into a window of their home. Sometimes birders noted just missing one with their cars along the side of the road. In select coastal locations immediately on Long Island Sound there were roosting birds discovered on multiple dates. This continued over the past few months as well. Check out the two maps below from eBird, with the first being from the 2012-13 season and the second from the 2011-12 season.

It is true that many people do not report owls to eBird for the same reasons they are often not mentioned outside of a circle of friends - the threat of the bird's roosting location being exposed and overzealous visitors frightening it away. Even those who do may make it a private list that is not exposed to public output like those maps above. With that in mind we can still see there are a lot of points on the coast as opposed to the previous season which is clearly more along the norm considering their habitat requirements and feeding preferences.

When you find an owl during a critical migration stage like these keep in mind it is moving south because it is literally starving and may be in mortal danger already. It is great to document such movement and to appreciate your sighting, but try to minimize any disturbance to the bird whatsoever. If you are worried about recording it in eBird and not exposing the location then I would suggest waiting a month or two before entering your data at which point the bird will have most likely moved on. If you have a roosting or feeding area that is frequented by many owls then simply put the point on the map to a nearby (not exact) location that would not give away precise information.

There are definitely some more species that have moved south to some degree, like the Boreal Owl, and last week there was an unconfirmed report of an extremely rare species, the Great Gray Owl. After such a tremendous snowfall we may see more birds taking greater risks to feed, including rarities, or others still passing through with the continued depletion of mammal populations.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician


  1. I saw one in Tolland in the fall. How do we report a sighting?

  2. Hi Elizabeth - if you visit you can quickly register for an account with your email address. Then you just go to Submit Observations, find your location on a Google map, enter the date, time, length and type of sighting followed by the species you saw and the number seen. Once you submit it then your checklist will be in the safe and secure eBird database forever for use by scientists around the world and by organizations like Connecticut Audubon Society. It is a tremendous free and easy way to aid conservation.