Friday, April 19, 2013

What's Going On With All These Barred Owls?

I've been watching birds since middle school.  I can't say that I'm very good at it, because being a good bird watcher requires a lot of patience, which is a trait that I don't have.  Also, it helps to get up early, which I'm not really big on. In fact, I'm not really big on getting up at all.  Anyway, in all my years of watching birds, I had never seen or heard an owl in the wild until about four years ago, when I saw the above Barred Owl (Strix varia) here in Alexandria, Virginia. 

Since then, I've seen more of them, and heard their calls all over in Alexandria and Fairfax County. (The Barred Owl says "Hoo-hoo hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo hoo-HOO", with added enthusiasm on the final hoot.)  I find it odd that I never noticed their calls before, but I suppose that it's possible.  

Then this year a Barred Owl showed up on the campus of my alma mater, Yale University, as reported by both the Yale Daily News and the Yale Herald.  (There weren't any owls when I was there.)

And finally I came across an article in the New York Times which begins with the writer describing "a frigid, star-salted night spent tromping through the Alexandria woods with David Johnson of the Global Owl Project, and listening to the stridently mournful cries of wild barred owls that remained hidden from view".

(On a geographical note, there is very little forested land in Alexandria, and in order to spend a night tromping through the woods here, one would have to tromp in a very tight circle.  A more likely location is the 1452-acre Huntley Meadows Park, which is in Fairfax County, but has an Alexandria postal address.)

And so, what is going on with all these Barred Owls, which seem omnipresent? Is it just a coincidence, or are Barred Owls undergoing a population surge?  It's not unknown for bird species to undergo a large increase in numbers . . . or a decrease.  When I was young, I used to see Hairy Woodpeckers (Picoides villosus) all the time, but I haven't seen one in fifteen years or more.

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