Friday 23 March 2007

Two reasons why I don't want to be an Owl

Shy, elusive, nocturnal and as a general rule no friends of Bell Tower Birders.
Not very cooperative, not very nice.

Nevertheless, they still deserve my sympathy because they have a rough life and as I will show below, I am quite happy about not having to live and owl's life which often - apparently - tends to be shortened rather unpleasantly.

You certainly still all remember the Snowy Owl Laurent and I went to see at Allen Park. If not, here are the two links, links to my blog posts.
Or marvel again at the incomparable pictures Andreas Kanon took (follow this link, go to Galleries / Avian Galleries and click on Owls).
Now, this was one friendly dude of an owl, obedient, showy and sticking around for a while allowing many, many birders to see it repeatedly and very nicely indeed.

Well, what can I say: it is dead now.

What remains of it was brought to the Rouge River Bird Observatory (cool site, well worth a good look) where it was examined by Julie Craves who wrote the following short report on the local birders email forum (reproduced here in part with her kind permission):

Someone found the carcass of the Snowy Owl
at Fairlane Green shopping center in Allen
Park that was present earlier this year.
I examined the bird and while there was some
minor animal damage the wings, legs, and
skull appeared unbroken/intact. The various
small wounds did not appear to be bullet
wounds, and I found no pellets or shot when
I probed, nor was there much blood. The inner
tissues were still somewhat frozen, but the
smell indicated that it probably died around
when it was last seen in early February.

What I didn't find was any fat; the breastbone
was easily felt and prominent, typically a sign
of emaciation. I will be taking the bird to
the MDNR for a necropsy, but if I had to guess,
this bird starved to death, despite the
impressions of many observers that it appeared
healthy and not under any duress.

All of a sudden, it doesn't appear to be so desirable anymore to be a Snowy Owl, to spend the summer in one of the most amazing landscapes up North and travel around a bit during the winter.

So, that's reason No. 1 for me not wanting to be an Owl: you'll have to eat mostly rodents and if you can't bear the taste anymore, you starve to death on a construction site besides an Interstate close to Detroit. Not quite the classy or heroic end one would expect for such a fabulous creature.

Now to reason No. 2: the life of an Eastern Screech Owl.
I had asked around a bit for possible sites to find Screech Owls around Ann Arbor and was told that there used to be one very dependably at the "Beach" section of the Arb but that the owl had to give up this roost site when some shrubbery was removed during park maintenance. But sure enough, there should still be a pair around at Rhododendron Glen, a swampy part of the Arb next to the Beach.
However, Rhododendron Glen received much attention - yet again? - by park maintenance this winter and now they are even building a new path there with a small bridge. This is surely going to be a very nice path once warbler migration sets in, but I can't help but wonder just what a resident pair of Eastern Screech Owl would think of all this human activity. I still checked the many hollow and old trees there regularly and last Sunday, during a pleasant walk through the Arb along Rhododendron Glen with my wife, I looked down onto the forest floor besides the path and spotted a few brown feathers. Closer inspection revealed them to have belonged to an Eastern Screech Owl and judging by the number of feathers, this one particular individual would never need its flight feathers again because inside of a Great Horned Owl it is too dark to fly.

This was basically the end of my hopes of seeing an Eastern Screech Owl at Rhododendron Glen. It was also the end of what must have been an owl's stressful life of constantly shifting roost sites and it was surely hard for the owl to not take all the park maintenance personal.

So there you have it, reason No. 2: You get pushed and shoved around by human interference and have to move your bedroom constantly, with all the lack of sleep during the day due to the time needed to adjust to new roost sites and in the end, when you are so tired you can barely stay alert anymore, you get eaten by another Owl.

At least we now know there's a Great Horned Owl at the Arb.
Laurent has actually heard it calling lately and will probably look for it today during a short lunch break. Even though the Screech Owl seems to be a bit of a problem to find and see, we should at least manage to find a Great Horned Owl soon.
And if we do, then we know at least where not to search for Eastern Screech Owls...


Patrick B. said...

Although I love to see Snowy Owls in the winter, I always feel bad for them because I know they are probably hungry. I had the same feeling during the Minnesota owl invasion of 2005. The birds were amazing, but many starved or got hit by cars.

And don't forget reason #3 not to be an owl - owl pellets. Enough said.

Jochen said...

You're right about those pellets!
Good think I didn't think of these earlier, it would have made my whole post obsolete!
The One and Only Reason for Not Wanting to be an Owl!