Second Nature:

If you happen to be outside on a cool November night, listen carefully and you might hear a hooting sound in the woods.

“An owl!” you say. This is true, but what kind of owl are you listening to? Chances are if you live in our neck of the woods, that you're listening to a barred owl. The woods around Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center in Brattleboro have many barred owls, so much so that we have made the bird part of our logo.

This owl is grey and brown with crossbars on its chest and neck. Barred owls don't have ear tufts like some other owls, but they do have large dark eyes, accentuated by feathers encircling them, and a small hooked beak.

The familiar mating call of the barred owl is often translated to English words sounding like “who cooks for you,” with the mate replying, “who cooks for you all.” Barred owls are also known for their wide variety of other calls including various hoots, whines and squeaks. They can even make noises like barking dogs or whooping monkeys.

Barred owls, like most owls, are not very active during the day. They generally stay in their nest, and the night is when they come out to hunt.

Barred owls eat a large variety of prey including mice, voles, shrews, moles, rats, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, opossums, bats, birds, frogs, salamanders, snakes, crayfish, insects, slugs and fish. They will usually find a favorite hunting perch and swoop down to catch their prey, grabbing it with their sharp talons.

As predators, they play an important role in the ecology of an area as they keep the populations of their prey down. Barred owls swallow their prey whole and their stomach acid will digest the soft parts of the prey. They will then regurgitate, or throw up, a pellet made of the bones and hair.

You can find a barred owl’s favorite eating place by locating a pile of pellets on the ground below a tree branch. If you find an owl pellet, you can take it apart carefully and look at the bones to see what animals the owl has been preying on.

Owls are very well-adapted to be nighttime predators. They have large eyes with excellent night vision and hearing to help them locate prey in the darkness.

Owls can hear a mouse squeak from more than one eighth of a mile away and they have necks that can turn as much as 270 degrees making it possible for them to see almost a complete circle around themselves without having to move their bodies.

As they search for prey, they also have another adaptation that allows them to approach prey quickly and quietly: soft fringe feathers on their wings called flutes. These flutes reduce the sound of air passing over their wings and allow them to fly silently and swoop down on their unsuspecting prey.

All of these features make owls masters of adaptation.

Second Nature is submitted by the naturalists at Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center in West Brattleboro. Upcoming Nature Days at Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center are Nov. 11, 25 and 26, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., for children in grades K through 5 to play, explore, and discover the changing seasons on Heifer Hill. The cost for members is $45 per day; nonmembers are $55 per day. Information and registration can be found at BEEC.org or call 802-257-5785. Thinking ahead? Join us for Winter Vacation Camp in February 2020!