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As its name implies, the Boreal Owl was thought to breed only in northern Canada and Alaska in North America, but many have been found nesting farther south in the U.S.

Southeastern Manitoba remains one of the best areas in the continent to view them as well as the Great Gray, Great Horned and Snowy owls and the Northern Hawk-owl. Bared, Northern Saw-whet, and Short-eared owls and Eastern Screech-owls are also found in the Canadian province. 

(Photo: Eagle-Eye Tours)

In March, all the owls become more conspicuous as they begin courtship. Eagle-Eye Tours, a Canada-based birding tour company, leads a tour focused on owl photography in Manitoba during this active period.

The Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival, Feb. 12-14, 2016, in Meadowlands, Minnesota, is another terrific venue to see many owl species in one place.

Boreal Owls and other owl species “irrupt” from northern Canada south into Minnesota and southern Quebec about every four years. These irruptions occur when populations of their main prey species, the Red-backed Vole, crash up north.

Boreal Owls can be a challenge for birders to see. They prefer to roost in dense subalpine stands of conifers with few deciduous trees. Multiple pellets on the ground are good indicators of a roost.

Boreal Owls have a much wider breeding range south of Canada than most believed a few decades ago.

Beginning in the late-1980s, experienced birdwatchers and field biologists verified Boreal Owls nesting in subalpine forests as far south as northern New Mexico’s San Juan, Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountains.  

Boreal Owl nesting and logging are mutually exclusive in every nesting habitat. 

The nesting pairs found in the U.S. are always in “islands” of mature fir, aspen and spruce in areas that had not burned or been logged in 100 years or more. When vole numbers peak, many male Boreal Owls become polygamous and mate with two or more females in adjoining territories.

Females nest in cavities created by Pileated Woodpeckers and other cavity-excavating birds high in trees, but not in areas where the trees are the same age.

The physics of sound has shaped the Boreal Owl’s head into a potent 3-D sound-location device. Researchers using laboratory experiments haven’t figured out exactly how night-hunting owls locate small rodents so efficiently. 

In winter, they use those skills in mature forests that shade the snow so it doesn’t form a sun-induced crust. They pounce on voles moving in tunnels under the soft snow. 

In summer they prefer forests with less vegetation on the ground to make locating prey easier. They perch on a limb, wait, listen, and fly a short distance to try again.

Their disproportionately wide head, asymmetrical ear openings, parabolic sound-reflecting facial feathers, and head movements all combine to enable them to pinpoint sounds made by small rodents, even under a thick layer of snow.

Even after prey is located, Boreal Owls patiently wait, attacking only after about 10 minutes, according to the Handbook of Birds of the World.

I believe that the more we watch, photograph, study and enjoy Boreal Owls, the better for the species, all birds, all wildlife and all humans.

#birds #birding #birdwatching #birdfestival #birdingfestivals #birdlovers #naturephotography #wildlifephotography   #birdphotography #ornithology #amazingbirds #birdphotos #birdingtours #birdingguides #birds #Canadabirds #ecotourism #beautifulbirds #amazingplacestosee #beautiful_nature

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The Short-eared Owl is a sleek, lethal jet-fighter of a bird that uses unique, rarely seen aeronautical maneuvers in courtship displays.

In winter in North America, Short-eared Owls can be found throughout most of the U.S.

"My best bet for finding them is to locate a large grassland or cluster of grasslands, which is their preferred habitat," said expert U.S. birder Corey Lange. "I then drive the roads around the grasslands searching for the birds perched up on fence poles or flying around the area hunting. I have the best luck finding them around dusk and dawn."

More camouflaged than most owls, it hides in plain sight in brambles, bushes and piles of brush. It catches a wider variety of small prey than other owls, but the 1-pound (450 g) owl is itself occasionally eaten by Great Horned Owls, which are five times bigger. 

The smaller owl compensates by avoiding trees where bigger owls may be perching, and hunts mostly treeless areas instead. It hunts at night, but also during daylight and twilight when the bigger owls are inactive. (Marsh Hawks and gulls will occasionally harass Short-eared Owls during the day to make them drop their prey.)

Short-eared Owls prefer voles, but also eat small birds. They hunt them in tundra and marshes from Russia, Scandinavia and Scotland to Canada and Alaska. In winter in North America, they migrate south to grasslands and coastal salt marshes throughout the lower 48 U.S. states and Mexico. They often roost in groups of a dozen or more.

Short-eared subspecies are year-round residents of Cuba, Hawaii and the Falkland Islands. Another subspecies is the only owl that breeds on the Galapagos Islands. 

(Photo: Galapagos Short-eared Owl, Kevin Loughlin, Wildside Nature Tours)

They were once persecuted by bird lovers on Muskeget Island off the coast of Massachusetts for eating tern chicks. Short-eared Owls also eat Leach’s Storm-petrels on islands, seizing the seabirds on their nocturnal nest burrow visits. The pellets of a Short-eared Owl wintering on a marsh in San Diego Bay contained the remains of bats.

A birdwatcher at the Sand Lake Migratory Waterfowl Refuge in South Dakota watched seven male Pintails circle in a tight formation to repeatedly harass an airborne Short-eared Owl. The ducks forced the owl to continually swerve.

“This was repeated again and again for several minutes until owl and ducks disappeared behind a hill,” John Erickson wrote in The Auk.

Courting pairs of Short-eared Owls perform a sky-dancing flight display, a series of playful, high-speed turns, dives, circles and dips at low altitude. Courting owls (they are seasonally monogamous) emit 15-to-20 toot-toot-toot-toot-toots at the rate of four toots per second during higher altitude courtship flights.  

These unique owl flights can be watched in fading light with binoculars. Observers sometimes see the owls make shallow, U-shaped dives, during which they produce a sound like a small flag fluttering in the wind. 

A.D. Dubois described such “fluttering flag” dives in The Auk in 1924:

“When the owl began the short dive he brought his wings together beneath him, stretching them back posteriorly and striking them rapidly together with short clapping strokes,” Dubois said. “The dive ended simultaneously with the clapping, when the bird spread his wings, abruptly and noiselessly turning his course upward with a swoop. He seemed to be applauding his own aerial performance.”

Dubois didn’t mention if he also applauded, but he was obviously impressed.

I believe that the more we watch, photograph, study and enjoy Short-eared Owls, the better for those species, all birds, all wildlife and all humans.

#owls #birds #birding #birdwatching #birdlovers #naturephotography #wildlifephotography  #birdphotography #ornithology #amazingbirds #birdphotos #birdingtours #birdingguides #Canadabirds #Galapagos #ecotourism #beautifulbirds #amazingplacestosee #beautiful_nature
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