THE MYSTERIOUS OWLS (PART 1)

THE MYSTERIOUS OWLS (PART 1)

December 31st, 2014

By Jon Wogen, TBC Board member, “used by permission of the Renville County Register”.

Owls have always intrigued me. When I was a kid on the farm, owls were a constant part of my life. We had seven wildlife areas on our farm, a railroad right of way and a large grove for wind protection. One had a lot of interesting experiences with wild things when you grow up in such a place.

We had lots of owls that lived in this wildlife-rich area of our farm. At night Screech Owls would give us their high pitched hoots and really became fun to imitate. The owls actually came closer and hooted back to us. They are a small, cute, but menacing looking miniature owl that resembles the Great Horned Owl in the face. They look so serious all the time. No smiling there.

We often saw these small owls at sunset. When we finished milking the cows and feeding the other critters, the sun had usually set and the western sky was beautiful gold, red, orange, or other wonderful color, depending upon the clouds present at that time.

As we walked into the house for supper, we could stop and look back at the barn. Quite often at that time, a small Screech Owl would fly to the peak of the barn roof. He just sat there pondering the sunset. The owl never hooted or moved much. It just sat there and enjoyed the colorful sunset. It eventually flew away as it got dark and began hunting for mice.

Since living on the farm owls have always intrigued me. That mysterious and serious look on their faces really got your attention. They never seemed to like us, but just tolerated us. The Great Horned Owls with their big “ears” and huge yellow eyes always were scary to see. We imagined that they would swoop down on us and grab us by the hair as they ripped off our caps, but it never happened. Kids do have an imagination. I remember reading where a hunter was calling for a fox to come in so he could shoot it. He was using a call that imitated a wounded and scared rabbit. A Great Horned Owl swooped down and grabbed his cap off his head, ripping open a large gash in his scalp. I never trusted owls after I read that story in one of the outdoor magazines.

Some wildlife lovers call the Great Horned Owl the “winged tiger” as it had a reputation for being able to kill quite large critters, such as rabbits, house cats, and even skunks. It preferred mice as they could be swallowed whole and their beaks weren’t really designed for tearing up their pray very well.

Another owl here in Minnesota that I love is the tiny Saw Whet Owl. This guy is even smaller than the Screech Owl. It lives in more forested areas and has a most unusual call. It sounds like someone sharpening a saw with a file, hence the name. It is pretty scary hearing such a sound when out in the woods at night. Their eyes are fantastic for night vision and they can home in on prey like small voles, mice and large insects with no effort at all.

Minnesota has a number of owls that are present. The barn owl probably is no longer found in Minnesota, but there could be a few in the southeast part of the state. The Barred Owl, Screech Owl, Saw –Whet Owl, Great Horned Owl, Long-Eared Owl, and Short-Eared Owl are somewhat numerous at least part of the year. The Boreal Owl, Burrowing Owl, Great Grey Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, and the Snowy Owl are less common and are found only at certain times of the year, mostly in winter. The Burrowing Owl is probably not found in Minnesota but if they are still here, they would be found on the Western Minnesota Prairie remnants still present on hilly ground. The Great Grey Owl nests in the extreme northern Minnesota forest, but become more numerous in Minnesota during severe winters in Canada. The Snow Owl comes down in winter when the mice and lemmings are in low supply.

Owls have a valuable place in nature. They are very helpful in controlling the supply of mice, rats, voles, lemmings, and such. In the case of the Great Horned Owl, they can also be destructive to other wildlife, including rabbits, pheasants, and other “desirable wildlife”. But, as they say, “Everything has a place in the scheme of things of nature”.

Next week we will discuss owls a bit more. We will present plans for a Screech Owl House as those little guys need some help. There are now fewer and fewer standing dead trees for them to nest in and they love hole-nesting. Building a nest box for them and placing it fairly high in trees will be worth your time.

BIKE TRAIL UPDATE

I hadn’t attended a Bike Trail Meeting for some time so wanted to learn what is up with that effort. They held a meeting at Master’s in Olivia on Wed., November 19.

They are awaiting a decision about their grant that they had applied for a while back. The DNR grant people won’t make a decision until January at the earliest. But, plans go on as if it will be awarded to the Bird Island-Olivia Trail Committee.

If it is awarded, the project will go on. There will be a trail head located on the north side of the new Renville County Hospital where the trail will be located. The trail head in Bird Island will be near the Baseball Diamond. The trail head in Bird Island has been drawn up for study by members of the Bird Island City Council and future users of the trail. It consists of a nice shelter or gathering place. Cost estimates are being studied for this structure. The plans are interesting and appear to be rather nice.

Keep tuned in and watch for future announcements about the possible receipt of the grant for the trail. Once a grant is in place, things can proceed. The committee discussed how to involve the landowners in fixing perceived problems with the trail going past their properties. For instance, special landscaping can be done to remedy some “problems”. Those runners, hikers and bikers who long for this project are getting anxious as the grant procedure comes to its end.

THE WISDOM OF SVEN

Today, Sven quotes Rose Kennedy: “Life is not easy for any of us. But it is a continual challenge, and it is up to us to be cheerful and strong, so that those who depend on us may draw strength from our example.”

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