Friday, December 12, 2014

Another Rare Bird!

On Dec. 3 a photo of an owl was posted to Birding New Brunswick Facebook page by a person who wishes to be anonymous.  It shocked most birders.  It was a BARN OWL!

Barn Owl   [photo by anonymous]
Most NB Birders have never seen this species, so this was another mega-rarity.

There have been a few reports of Barn Owl sightings over the last 50 or so years.  All of them have been of specimens of dead birds.  The NB Museum has 3 specimens in its collections.  One is a bird from Europe and the other two are from NB.  They are dated 1980 and 2005.  This was not an owl we could ever go out and see, list and study.  Imagine the excitement this generated!

But, there was a problem.  The person reporting the owl was not telling us where it had been seen and photographed.  Birders waited 12 hours for a report which did not come.  So, they took matters into their own hands.  They had the picture and they knew it came from somewhere near Saint-Marcel, New Brunswick.  A group headed out the next day and drove around until they found the area which matched the background in the photo.  A nearby field was suitable habitat so they waited until nearly dusk that day - and they were rewarded.  The owl flew into the field and even perched on a horizontal tree branch near where they were parked.  It then put on a feeding and flight demonstration that none had seen before.  Marvellous!  The barn owl has long wings and flies close to the ground looking for feed, its flight often in a bat-like fashion.  It shows shallow, slow wingbeats, often with long legs dangling.

Barn Owl  [photo by Carmella Melanson]

The Barn Owl is a medium-sized owl, 41 cm (16") long and with a wing span of 107 cm (42").  It has long legs and is very light colored on the breast and facial disk.  Its facial disk is heart-shaped.  Barn owls feed mainly on rodents and are prized by farmers for their rodent control.  They nest in dark sheltered places in abandoned buildings, barns and hollow trees.

The barn owl is normally very nocturnal thus making it difficult to see.  It could be confused with the Snowy Owl which is also very white.  The Snowy, however, is usually seen in the daytime; the Barn Owl at night.  The Snowy Owl is also a bit bigger.  

One amazing fact is the fantastic hearing possessed by this beautiful owl.  It can easily hear prey hidden by vegetation or buried under the snow.  This is facilitated by asymmetrically placed ear openings, one side being higher than the other.  They also can close their ears if encountering a sound that is too loud for them. 

It is our hope that our visitor finds plenty to eat and moves southward as the weather degenerates.

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