Images, video: A glimpse into the life of barred owls, owlets

As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, my father has developed some fine photography skills during his retirement. Bob Drieslein has killed a lot of deer and turkeys over the years, and he still hunts with a gun or bow each spring and fall. But hauling a long camera lens around has extended his wildlife “hunting” season year-round.

Recently (now that his wild turkey tag has expired), he found a barred owl nest in southeast Minnesota. After crawling into a blind this week, he snapped some images and video of an adult barred owl and two youngsters, or “owlets.”

Northern barred owls receive less publicity than the arguably more photogenic great-horned owl, with its vertical “horn” feathers, large yellow eyes, and tiger-of-the-skies reputation. By comparison, the common barred owl looks rather sleepy, though its loud and long “who-hoots-for-you” call is recognizable instantly.

Historically confined to the eastern United States and southern Canada, the woodland species has grown its range westward as forests expand across the formerly Great Plains. Running or biking some of the woodland trails and parks near my suburban home, I’ll see barred owls in the mornings and evenings. And quite often, I’ll bump into a photographer monitoring and snapping images of a bird. Owl photography has become ubiquitous.

The nest exists in a busted-off tree 30-plus feet above the ground. Dad has bumped into a fair number of barred owl nests over the years, and they seem to prefer broken trees or abandoned pileated woodpecker cavities.

I hear barred owls year-round but late winter is probably prime time as they’re setting up nesting territories. Dad figures these birds nested in late March, which means the female likely was incubating eggs during the foot-plus snowstorm that hit southern Minnesota in mid-April. Though they don’t nest as early as great-horns, they’re still tough birds.

The young are growing fast, and my Dad expects them to fledge soon. He snapped the images over the weekend, and to avoid disturbing the birds too much, he hasn’t been back this week.

“I didn’t see any primary wing feathers yet, but I expect they’ll leave the nest soon,” he said. “It’s not uncommon to see adults feeding them on the ground when they get this size. They’re big enough now that they can chase off some predators.”

Learn more about the species via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

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