Winter is officially here! The weather has cooled down, and some of the best little hunters have appeared on the scene. The short-eared owls are here! I saw the first one of this year yesterday evening at dusk on the Redwing Road. It is the time of the aerial hunters. Hawks, eagles, falcons and owls can be seen with a little patience.
There are long-eared Owls too, which are mostly located in the mountain states and Canada. They are not common in Kansas and are almost totally nocturnal, so they are seldom seen in daylight. The short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) is common in most of the United States and Canada. It is also found in Europe. Their “ears” apparently have more to do with concealment than with hearing. Most of the birds that I see in the marsh are like this picture-- the ear tufts are folded down. They glide and swoop in their hunting process. They love rodents!
The best book in my library about owls is “Owls of the United States and Canada” by Wayne Lynch. He is a dedicated owl specialist, and his description of each bird and the origin of the species is a fascinating read. He is also a tremendously talented and diligent photographer. He has spent many hours in some very uncomfortable locations and situations to give us elegant and very detailed images and information. His description of the skeleton, feathers(most molt annually depending on food supply), behavior,nurturing skills and instincts is meticulous and precise. He reports that the average life span of the Short-eared Owl in America is about 4 years, and in Europe approximates 12 years. The species is in decline due to loss of habitat. It is a challenge to all of us to protect our spaces as fiercely as we can with better land management and smarter national policies to protect these birds and animals that ultimate do depend on us. It is not unrealistic to assume that we are saving ourselves in the process.
Go at dusk and watch a silent hunter swoop the marsh. You will be awed by this special bird.
Doc Witt enjoys the outdoors and is a retired physician.