January 21st, 2015

By Jon Wogen, TBC Board member – printed with permission by the Renville County Register

Most of us have had encounters with the mysterious and wonderful owls. As kids we called Screech Owls closer to us. We admired the Great Horned Owl sitting in a tree as we walked around and around it trying to screw its head off. That didn’t work well as we didn’t notice that the owls would snap its head around to focus on us once again.

We related to you some time ago that we had that close encounter with a Great Gray Owl while deer hunting in the north woods. Dressed in orange clothing and sitting quietly in the deer stand, we suddenly felt a presence above us. We lifted our eyes to suddenly meet the eyes of the Great Gray Owl staring down at us. In a few seconds the huge bird left as quietly as it came into my tree. A couple of minutes later, a chickadee came and landed on the bill of my orange cap. Seems that bird watchers might not need the camouflage we usually wear.

Yes, owls are mysterious and a very interesting part of Creation. The sinister look on their faces is awesome. They always look so serious. Type “A” personalities seem to abound among the owls.

Some folks who don’t like owls just can’t understand why owls are protected by law. But we who know what they can do for us understand that killing and eating gobs of rodents earns the owl a special place in our lives. The eating of rodents like mice, voles and rats helps to preserve crops, and stored food.

Owls also help to manage numbers of other wildlife. In other words, owls may be very good in nature’s scheme that requires some balance of all of its participants.

Owl conservation can be forwarded by us. Making a nesting box for Screech Owls and Barred Owls is one way to help them. If you live where there is a wood lot and windbreak trees, you can allow a dead tree to stand with its rotten holes and openings. Owls will love you for those standing in your grove.

Another way for you to help owls to survive is to be careful with rodent poisons. A mouse sick form eating your poison is very easily caught by an owl. The poison in the rodent gets into the owl and may kill it. The same goes for insecticides. Small owls eat a lot of insects and if those are carrying poison, they may harm the owls.

Cat lovers who allow their pets to run loose may be harming the population of owls, especially those that are the smaller species. Cats can also kill the baby owls that may be sitting on the ground or a low branch of a tree. Dogs also can be a problem when running free. They can and do kill owls they can catch.

When we lived on the farm, we had piles of old barbed wire in the grove. Some was in rolls and others were more loosely-coiled and lying around in the grove. If a mouse were attacked near or in a coil of barbed wire, the owl could become tangled up and would die in the wire. You might check for this in your grove. Cleaning up the grove of this kind of stuff can help the birds to avoid being hung up and trapped.

If you see a baby owl on the ground in the spring, it is best left in place unless dogs or cats are prowling the area. If dogs and cats, or maybe kids are around, you can use leather gloves and place the owl in a branch of a tree where it might be safe.

All land owners should at least think about what they do or do not have for habitat for all kinds of wildlife. A thick grove stops wind and snow and provides a place for birds like owls. A scant grove with mowed grass among the trees provides little for wild things.

One of my heroes from a long time ago is Teddy Roosevelt. He said, “Do what you can with what you have where you are”. If you own property, you can help wild things to live on it. Even people living in town can plant more trees or shrubs and provide more habitat for wild things. These creatures share the Earth with us. They deserve some habitat to live in. We also benefit from having the wild creatures among us. They provide inspiration and are just plain fun to observe.

If you are fortunate to live on a farm where Great Horned Owls thrive, try to locate a tree that the owls roost in. Then, look on the snow or ground below where the owls roost. Locate the furry “pellets” that owls barf up after they have digested the rodents they have eaten. Yes, owls don’t pass fur, bones and teeth like other critters. After digestion, the owls burp up the hairy mass and it drops to the ground. You can take one of these pellets and dissect it. You will find small rodent bones among the hair. There will be jaws, teeth and maybe a whole skull to see there in the hair. If you know how to identify a skull, you can actually tell just what sort of mouse, vole, lemming, or other small mammal it is. It could even be a shrew. We have found shrew skulls in owl pellets.

Consider the wild things and their needs. And, then act.


Believe it or not, there is an owl festival right here in Minnesota. It is in Houston, a southeast Minnesota town. Two websites can help you to learn more about owls and to get information about this festival which this year starts on Friday, March 16 and runs through the weekend. If you like owls you might want to go there that weekend.

You might want to check out the article on the Great Gray Owl in Bird Watcher’s Digest (Nov.-Dec. 2014 issue).

Birds and Blooms Magazine (Oct.-Nov. 2014) has a nice article about owls too. The cover of this magazine shows a wonderfully beautiful Saw-Whet Owl. There are many nice photos of the owls for you to enjoy too.


Today SVEN quotes Thomas Jefferson, his favorite President: “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.” (1786)

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply