We are admitting more Barred Owls than usual right now and it has to do with the last few snow storms we received. We had a large snow fall, then warmer weather so some of the snow melted, then another cold snap so everything froze again, and then another large snow fall. This means there is a layer of ice sandwiched in the snow, and the ice is the problem.
In the winter, owls can hunt mice through the snow. They have such terrific ears that from a couple dozen yards away, they can hear mice moving around and tunneling under a foot and a half of snow! They then do something very special called snow-plunging, in which they dive toward the snow with their talons outstretched. They use their force to break through the snow and gather their prey. Larger owls, such as Great Grey Owls are strong enough to break through, but the slightly smaller Barred Owl cannot break through the layer of ice in the snow.
Photo above: This photo shows a Great Gray Owl snow-plunging. I borrowed this photo from the internet, and it is a beautiful depiction of the behavior I described. (Photo credit: Jody Melanson/Solent)
If you see an owl out during the daytime, it may be because they're having a hard time finding food. Usually owls are active in the evening and over night and can find enough food during those hours. Under conditions such as we have now, it is harder for them to find enough food during the time they usually would so they have to compensate by hunting during the day as well. To make things even harder for them, this is the time of year when they begin laying eggs and raising young. Developing an egg inside the female's body can be an exhausting task, and they generally lay between 2 and 4 eggs per clutch. Not having enough food during this time can result in fewer or no young for the season.
Because they're hunting more frequently and desperate for food, they may have more run-ins with humans than normal. We admitted a Barred Owl yesterday that was struck by a vehicle. It was likely that he was so intent on finding food that he wasn't aware of the vehicle approaching until it was too late and it struck him. Unfortunately, this owl lost his battle during the night, but you can help to prevent a similar loss by driving carefully and keeping a watchful eye.
Photo above: This is the Barred Owl from the last blog post. He was the first of three Barred Owls brought to us in the last few days. He is suffering from starvation, but is slowly regaining weight and strength. He is showing signs of kidney failure, a consequence of his starvation, but we will continue supportive care. Here, Rehabilitation Technician, Alberta Halfman, is preparing to tube feed him.
Photo above: Alberta is inserting the tube for feeding in the second Barred Owl admitted suffering from starvation. In raptors, females are generally about a third larger and heavier than males, but this female currently weighs less than what a healthy male should weigh.
Please keep a lookout for all birds that need help. Barred Owls are having a particularly hard time right now because their diets aren't as varied as, say, a Great Horned Owl, and they aren't powerful enough to break through the icy snow we have. Barred Owls also tend to make themselves obvious when they need help; they may be reluctant to fly when approached or they may even flop down in front of you as you may have read in the last blog entry.
If you would like to donate items to help these owls, we are in need of baby food. We use meat-only baby food for tube feeding patients suffering from starvation.
If you find a bird that you think may need help, please give us a call. Our rehabilitation phone number is (715) 623-4015.
REGI Wildlife Educator