, Salem, MA


March 13, 2014

Calling all owls

Whole family can have a hoot at Audubon sanctuary


“One reason we do the Owl Prowl in winter, as we come into late February and March, is you’ll have a higher likelihood of hearing the birds, because this is when they get started,” Santino said. “Owls are first to find a mate.”

Owls that typically nest on the property include barred, great horned and eastern screech owls, while long-eared and saw-whet owls may be visiting.

“Saw-whet owls — like whetting a saw, that’s the sound they make — they’re more northern, they migrate through,” Walsh said. “We do call for them. The saw-whets like a whistle.”

The Owl Prowl is held at night because that is when the three main species are most active, although, they will appear during the day.

“I would say the barred owl, of the three, is most likely to be encountered during daylight hours,” Santino said.

Walsh and Santino don’t expect to see any of the snowy owls that have appeared locally in record numbers this winter, because that species prefers the tundra-like habitat at sites like Plum Island, while the sanctuary features woodlands and wetlands.

Walsh recently practiced calling barred owls while leading a group on a maple-sugaring tour and was happy to hear them call back.

Although the birds don’t always answer during owl prowls, they are still sometimes curious enough to want to see who’s making their sound.

“They’ll fly in, and we put a red spotlight on them,” she said. “It’s less obtrusive.” Owl eyes have few cone cells, which detect color difference, and therefore aren’t bothered by red-tinted light, Walsh said.

They have special features that help them hunt, including heads that can swivel in a 270 degree arc, letting them remain still while looking for prey. Many species also have asymmetrical ears, with one pointing up and the other down, which helps them pinpoint the source of a sound.

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