18 March 2009

adventures with owls

Some day, I will compose a freezer list. My freezer in college* (permitted for the school through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources & U.S. Fish & Wildlife) was chock-full of song birds, as I never did find a body for the one screech owl window print. Other than songsters, we did have hummingbirds and woodpeckers and the occasional hawk, but out of 45+ species of window-killed birds, not one owl.

Roadkill. Mmm, the word conjures up flattened skunks. Sad, really, but a treasure chest of birds for the scientific community. A few posts back there was mention of a Long-eared Owl, which linked to pictures of my find in Taylor Co. If it didn't here's the link to the pictures. Ah, yes, roadkill. First county record - what's better documentation than a photograph? Yep. The carcass. Especially when fresh. Ok, so you were eating, I do apologize!

Owls are a remarkably common roadkill find. Their hunting strategy often involves open areas that are grassy, and when swooping or cruising low on the hunt they are right at *thump* height on a vehicle. The common/expected owls (in no particular order) in Texas are Barn, Barred, Burrowing, Eastern Screech, Great-horned, and Short-eared. Long-eared isn't reported annually and I'm sure the more exotic critters in the Rio Grande Valley would count to some extent, but the above list works for our purposes.

On the Upper Texas Coast, Barred and Great-horned seem to be the most common of the owls DOR (dead on road). Abilene, oddly enough, has supplied a good many Great-horns and Barns (to be expected), but also Eastern Screech. This is about as far west as those little guys get. I've yet to pick up a Burrowing at all, or Short-eared for that matter (range, habitat, the odds are not in my favor).

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) taken 3.16.09

The picture below is what sparked a gender debate. Barn Owls are Barn Owls to me. Usually I see them squashed or as a blur - not much to go on if I want to determine gender. And since the above circumstances rarely allow for close study, gender never crosses my mind. So Laura (my Big Country Audubon president, mentor, dear friend, surrogate mother, etc) asked if the creature was female due to the buffy belly. Laura, for the record, is showing the cancer who is boss - and taking advantage of a perk in immune system to catch up on the freezer contents! Anyway, with field guide in hand, we compared notes. Males have white bellies and legs. Females are buffy below with spotting leading into the legs. Yep.

Thanks for bearing with me - hopefully we'll get some pictures of live birds posted at some point. Until then, keep your eyes on the road... and let us know what you find!

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