Winter Owls

For most of my life owls have seemed mysterious, rarely sighted and solitary. To see a nesting pair was a great coup. However all of my preconceptions were thrown out the window last week as I saw 27 owls comprising 5 different species, all in two days!

To begin with, this was only possible with some expert help, a bit of luck and a quirk of some owls’ habits. Turns out, some owls, like Short-eared and Long-eared, winter together in communal roosts, clustering together in relative proximity on their wintering grounds.  The fact that this happens in Colorado and I happen to have a friend who had discovered roosting spots was exceptional good fortune.

The last bit of good fortune was finding two owls at Pinello Ranch, a Western Screech Owl, first found by one of our volunteers, and the second a Great Horned Owl, a pair are nesting somewhere on the Pinello Ranch/Venetucci Farm border. In all, I saw 10 Long-eared Owls fluttering around their day roost in brushy groves of Russian Olive trees, 14 Short-eared Owls erupting from open prairie riddled with ground squirrel burrows, 1 Barn Owl also amongst Russian Olives and Cottonwood trees, 1 Screech Owl roosting in a hollow of a Siberian Elm tree and 1 Great Horned Owl swooping amongst ancient Cottonwood trees. Unfortunately, only the Long-eared Owls and Western Screech Owl were obliging photographic subjects.

Owl, Long-eared Chico Basin 3-3-16
A male Long-eared Owl paused in a grove of Russian Olive trees. We estimated a total of at least 10 of these raptors and owl pellets littered the ground
Owl, Long-eared fem, Chico Basin 3-3-16
Female Long-eared Owl. Note the especially long “ear” tufts and dark vertical stripes running through the eyes.
Owl, W. Screech, Pinello 3-3-16
Western Screech-Owls have the charming habit of dozing in the sun on winter days quite oblivious to birders and their cameras. Occasionally the owl would peak from one eye, letting us know it was aware of us.


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