I was in North Chagrin Reservation this past week when I heard the “scream” of a fledgling Barred Owl (Strix varia). I am sure this was an attempt to try and encourage a nearby adult to hurry up with the next meal delivery. June – July are great months to hear this call even during the middle of the day. Here is a short video of a hungry owlet.
While Barred Owls are commonly found throughout Cleveland Metroparks, I think North Chagrin Reservation is one of the best locations to observe, hear, and photograph Barred Owls. Named for the “barring” on their breast, this owl is a common year round resident in Ohio. Mature forests such as those found in this reservation provide the food and cover they need to be successful. Usually nesting in a large tree cavity, the female incubates eggs for nearly 4 weeks. The male, which is smaller and more agile, provides food for her during this time capturing anything from bats, mice, voles, amphibians, reptiles, insects, crayfish, bird, etc. As the chick’s size and appetite rapidly grows both adults begin hunting to try to keep up with food delivery of the typical 2 – 4 chicks. Fledging (leaving the nest) occurs after about two months after hatching and often they’re climbing more than flying at this time, but it won’t be long they are following the adults around the forest.
My favorite experience with a Barred Owl happened one night while I was conducting a bat survey in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We were in an area where several hungry young owls were screaming for their dinner. While walking the trail to check our mist nets, the adults would swoop down at us letting us know that they we not happy about us being there. While we never were hit, I have heard reports of people that were hit in the head by the owl’s talons as they flew by. The night was getting late and we were waiting for our next net check when I saw a large shape fly toward a net. We quickly ran to find a barred owl hanging eye level, entangled in the net. I quickly put on a pair of leather gloves and removed the owl. While he or she was not happy you can see from the following photo that we were both a little shook up by the experience!
The bird was released quickly unharmed and when checking the net damage we found a shrew on the ground most likely a meal for a hungry owlet that was dropped in the ordeal.
While there are no promises, if you would like to observe one of these magnificent birds for yourself I recommend spending some time hiking the Overlook and the White Pine Loop Trails in North Chagrin Reservation. Search the trees for shapes that look out of place. You will typically find them perched 10 – 15 feet off of the ground. Use your ears and listen for hungry owlets or crows, blue jays and other song birds which will often give away their location. The only request is if you do locate an owl please give it some space so that others may have the same opportunity too.