Audubon Afternoon: A Sojourn with Owls

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More than seventy owl enthusiasts assembled at the National Wildlife Federation building in Reston on September’s last Sunday to take a close look at owls. The ASNV Audubon Afternoon program “A Year in the Life of an Owl”  allowed participants to see and photograph four owl species up close—Great Horned, Barred, Barn, and Screech, all trained to perch on the gloved hands of staff instructors from Secret Garden Birds and Bees, a group that helps rehabilitate injured owls and other birds.

The program focused on how each of these four owl species survives in Virginia from January through December, including courtship, nesting, raising young, fledging, and dispersal of young. Even birders familiar with owls might have found something new to learn from the guest speakers, such as:

  • Barred Owls are doing well in suburbs, where the availability of water, trees, and rodents leads to high fledging success;

  • Barred Owls typically nest near Red-shouldered Hawks; if you see a woodland used by Red-shouldered Hawks, you likely will find Barred Owl nests, too;

  • the Barn Owl may be a southern species that has moved north, because its lean, long-legged body makes it poorly equipped for northern winters; it stores little fat and can start to fail if deprived of food for only a day or two;

  • songbirds constitute about two-thirds of a Screech Owl’s diet;

  • about 90 percent of owls die before reaching adulthood;

  • a chief cause of mortality in winter is collision with motor vehicles; and

  • like eagles, owls suffer from lead poisoning, ingesting shotgun pellets in animals hunters have lost; all eagles turned into the Secret Garden are suffering from lead poisoning.

Audubon Afternoon volunteers served refreshments, ranging from cookies and cake to wine and cheese.

The next Audubon Afternoon, scheduled for January, will feature the birds of Panama. Keep an eye on the website and monthly newsletter for further information.