Owls In Western North Carolina
NC Owls Add To The States Mystery And Appeal
Anyone who knows the history and geography of North Carolina can relate to the eerie and mysterious quality of the state. The first colonists came ashore on the Outer Banks, barrier islands dominated by Live Oak, Spanish moss and dark seeming marsh and swampland. As the colonists pushed their way west into the mountains they traveled through dense forests of hemlocks and rhododendrons. Regardless of where they were the calls of owls in the night added to the mystery of the land they were in.
In addition to the sounds and sights of owls in the night the Cherokee belief in the owls only added to their mystique. The Cherokee revere the owl as a source of wisdom and knowledge. Cherokee shaman trust the Screech Owl as consultants from the world around them. Since owls are active at night they were also associated with the underworld by many tribes.
Owls Native To North Carolina
There are four species of Owls commonly found in North Carolina: The Great Horned Owl, The Barred Owl and The Screech Owl. These Owls are very hard to see by day and by night but can be easily distinguished by their calls.
Interesting Facts About Barred Owls
- Barred owl pellets are among the largest pellets of any owl and are a great source of scientific discovery for young scientists.
- Bard Owls have one of the most distinctive calls in the bird world. It is also known as the eight-hooter and the hoot owl.
- The latin name for the Barred Owl is Strix varia.
- Barred Owls nest in tree cavities, often those left by other birds, and are year round residents. The mating pair will usually return to the same nesting site year after year.
- Eggs are laid in the early spring and usually include 2-4 eggs.
Barred Owls In North Carolina
Barred Owls are one of the states favorite birds. Who doesn't feel a thrill when they hear the distinctive call echoing through the night air. The birds are a large and silent hunter that can emerge from out of the gloomiest night to swoop down and capture a tasty meal.
The Barred Owl is a large owl common to all of North America. Because of its notable call it is also known as the hoot owl and the hooter. The call, often remembered by the sentence "who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?", is very recognizable.
Adult Barred Owls are usually between 16" and 25" long, weigh about 1-1.5# and have a wingspan between 3 and four feet. This owl is quite large but not the largest in North America. The species is widespread across the US and Canada, preferring wooded areas where it can hunt small rodents. It is called the Barred Owl because of the distinctive barred pattern on its feathers. The birds are a dark russet to brown color on the upper sides and lighter beneath with the same barred patterns on both sides.
Barred Owls are particularly common in the forests of the south eastern United States. The birds are so numerous that they have begun to move into residential neighborhoods with lots of trees. So far signs indicate that the birds are doing quite well in these habitats and are providing rodent control for the neighborhoods.
There are some strange Barred Owl noises. Apart from the call the birds make a variety of grunts, sqawks and other hard to describe sounds. Barred owls can often be tracked to their roosts by following these sounds.
Barred Owl Call
Great Horned Owl
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The Great North State And The Great Horned Owl
The Great Horned Owl is the largest owl in North Carolina and the second largest owl in North America after its close cousin the Snowy Owl. This owl, aside from its giant size, is very distinctive because of the tufts on each side of its head. These tufts are neither horns or ears but merely feathers. The Great Horned Owl is widely spread throughout the Americas and can be found in every habitat from the Arctic Circle to the tip of South America. The Great Horned Owl is a commonly seen in NC forests because it is a year round resident. There are about a dozen recognized sub-species of the Great Horned Owl. These sub-species are divided by variations in color, geographic region and preferred habitat.
Great Horned Owls can be seen late at night in the tops of bare trees. The birds sit and wait for any signs of movement from below and then silently glide on their massive wings to snatch their unsuspecting dinner. They range from 17-25" long as an adult, similar to the Barred Owl, but with a much greater wingspan which can reach up to 5 feet from wingtip to wingtip. Females are slightly larger than the males and can reach up to 3 pounds in weight.
The call of the Great Horn Owl is a low hoo hoo hooing that is similar but distinctly different from the call of the Barred Owl. Young owls, while still in the nest, make hissing and screeching noises that can be confused with the call of the Barn Owl. These owls prefer a mix of terrain that includes open areas where they can hunt and forested areas where they like to roost. Like other owls the Great Horned Owl will roost in hollow cavities in trees or other places they find and may take over a nest left by another bird.
Great Horned Owl Calls
Owl Pellet Dissection Is A Fun Project For Kids
What Are Owl Pellets?
- Owl pellets are the undigested remains of their dinners. Owls eat their prey whole, digest the food parts and then regurgitate a ball of bones and fur. This ball is called an owl pellet and is a handy tool for studying owls. Pellets can be found anywhere owls roost and even sometimes in your biology classroom!
Owl Pellet Dissection
- Owl pellet dissection is a fun nature activity for kids. The project is often done at summer camps and in school. Owl pellet dissection is also an easy activity to do at home. Pellets can be found in the woods if you know where to find an owl or can be purchased on line for only a few dollars.
Owl Pellet Bone Chart
- With a bone chart it is possible to rebuild the skeleton of whatever it was the owl last ate. All the major bones for one animal should be present in each pellet but be careful, there may be more then one animal in some.
- Owl Pellet Bone Chart
Screech Owl - Red Phase
Screech Owls In Western North Carolina
Screech Owls are another owl whose range is limited to the Americas. Like the Great Horned Owl it is highly adaptable and can be found in habitats ranging from northern Canada to the tip of Argentina. There are currently 21 known and recognized species of Screech Owl and more are being found regularly, especially deep in the jungles of South America.
The Screech Owl commonly found in North Carolina is the Eastern Red Screech Owl. These are small to medium sized owls that typically range from 7-10" in length and wingspans up to 24". They also have distinctive tufts of feathers on the top of their heads which can make them look like miniature versions of Horned Owls.
Screech Owls like a mixed terrain of semi-open areas, especially where there are plenty of trees for them to nest in. They feed on small mammals and insects and can be heard trilling through the trees late at night. The Screech Owls call is actually nothing like a screech at all. It is actually a quick series of notes sung one on top of the another in rapid succession. Calls between different species of Screech Owls vary widely and is a good way to distinguish them.
Eastern Red Screech Owl Call
Barn Owls In Western North Carolina
Barn Owls are the most widely distributed owl and one of the worlds most widely distributed birds. The distinctive pale heart shaped face is iconic and well known. Barn Owls are found nearly everywhere except the polar and dessert regions and the Pacific Islands. There are about 20 or so subspecies of the Barn Owl but the one you can find in North Carolina is the subspecies Tyto alba pratincola.
These owls are medium sized in the owl world, usually about 10-20" in length with a wingspan of about 3 feet across. The females are usually larger than the males, like in most owl and raptor species. They like to roost in tree hollows, small caves and of course barns.
This bird would more aptly be called the screech owl because of its call. The call of the Barn Owl is a kind of shrieking hiss.
Barn Owls Are Very Unique Birds
Did You Know That .....
- Owls eyes can not move within their eye sockets so they have to move their entire head when looking at something.
- An owl can turn its head an amazing 270° so that they can change their field of vision without moving their entire body.
- Owls ears are not positioned in the same place on both sides of its head. This helps the birds pin-point their prey by providing a kind of binocular like hearing. By tilting it head an owl can pinpoint the location of its prey by hearing alone.
- Prey is usually killed with the talons or by biting the head. Prey is also swallowed whole, a habit which leads to the production of owl pellets.
Places To See Owls In North Carolina
- Western North Carolina Nature Center- Located in Asheville, Asheville North Carolina. The WNC Nature Center is a valuable resource for education on the wildlife and vegetation native to the region. On display are reptiles, amphibians, birds, raptors, owls, black bears and red wolves. The Nature Center is home to a wide variety of indigenous species and also cares for injured animals found in the wild.
- North Carolina Raptor Center- Is a non-profit center for the education, conservation and rehabilitation of raptors and birds of prey. They are located in Huntersville, NC.
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