On Saturday 3, April 2011 a pet sitter friend (this it the only link this post has to pet sitting but critters are the focus, they aren’t pets, but it is Amy’s Happy Critters, Inc.) invited me to join her in Rocky Ripple for a presentation on Raptors in Indiana, specifically owls. The presentation was put on by the Dwight Chamberlain Raptor Center located at Hardy Lake which is owned and operated by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The raptor center is not supported by and state funds but by donation. “Friends of Hardy Lake is an all volunteer, non profit, 501 (c)(3) corporation. The purpose of the corporation is to support the Hardy Lake State Recreational Area of Indiana,The Dwight Chamberlain Raptor Rehabilitation Center and Hardy Lake Interpretive Educational Programs – Through both fundraising and man power.”
The birds that come into the center are generally injured or orphaned. They are rehabilitated and released if at all possible. Those that can not return to the wild due to their injuries have a home for life that approximates wild raptor life as much as possible. They are not treated as pets at all, they don’t even name the birds. They are used to educate the public in outreach programs like this one. The owls will act as foster parents to orphaned young of their own species which helps orphans learn the basics of being owls.
The information that I provide is recalled from the presentation and/or quickly fact checked by the internet and we all know how dangerous it can be to consider all that we find on the internet factual. The links provided regarding the birds seemed to be the best on offer but, again, my research was not exhaustive. I apologize for any inaccuracies.
The owls pictured are:
- The Great Horned Owl
- The Screach Owl
- The Barred owl
- The Barn owl
The Red-Tailed Hawk
The Red-Tailed Hawk is the most common hawk in North America. It can live up to 21 years in the wild. They weigh a mere 3-4 pounds, the female is larger then the male.
They generally hunt small mammals, rodents and reptiles. Their preferred hunting grounds are open fields. The grassy areas along interstates meets this criteria well. If you see a raptor along the interstate, it’s likely a Red-Tail. I have seen a hawk, presumably a Red-Tail, dive and come back up with a snake while driving along the interstate.
He is often blamed for the death and disappearance of chickens and other barn yard animals, hence the nickname “chicken hawk”. The Red-Tail gets the blame because he is so often seen during the day. It is more likely that the chickens were lost to the Great Horned Owl, who hunts at night, while the Red-Tail hunts during the day.
This video was taken at the presentation. You can’t appreciate the size of this hawk unless you see it in person though.
In the 1970’s when it was placed on the endangered species list there were about 600 Bald Eagles in the continental United States. Pesticides such as DDT and the ever challenging problem of habitat loss were the primary reasons for this near extinction of our national symbol. In 2009 the DNR in Indiana counted 94 active nests in Indiana, meaning that Indiana was likely home to 188 Bald Eagles. There were nearly a third as many eagles in Indiana in 2009 as there were in the continental United States in the 1970’s. Assuming that just one chick, of the average of two eggs laid, from each nest survived each year, there may now be 376 Bald Eagles in Indiana by the end of 2011. A remarkable conservation achievement.
Bald eagles are primarily fishers but they will also supplement their diet with other animals, including the occasionally steeling the kill of another predator, and they will happily dine on carrion. It is said that these unsavory habits are one reason that Benjamin Franklin preferred the Wild Turkey as our national symbol.
The Bald Eagle in this video, shot at the presentation, is a male and he weighs about 8 pounds. You will see him jumping around quite energetically when not perched on the handlers arm. She says if you want to know what it feels like, imagine an 8 pound bowling ball flinging itself around while connected to your arm! She says she is glad that they don’t have a female as they can weigh 10-12 pounds.
I live on what is often referred to as “The Compound”. (I live next door to my dad, who lives next door to my uncle, who lives next door to my brother, who lives next door to his best friend.) All of us live on at least 5 partially wooded acres that back up to a White River flood plain. We are fortunate enough to have a Bald Eagle nest in our vicinity. We occasionally get to adults and juveniles from this nest.
Eastern Screech Owl
Though only weighing about as much as a slice of bread, the Screech Owl has perhaps frightened more people then any other owl with it’s characteristic screech.
The Screech Owl feeds on a variety of small animals and large insects. They have also been known to eat songbirds, notably the European Starling. Like other owls the Screech Owl is a cavity dweller, preferring to nest in cozy holes instead of building a nest. The Starling will evict a Screech Owl from it’s nest to use it for it’s self. So, dining on this particular song bird seems only fair.
The most common injury to owls is being hit by a car while hunting. Flying into barbed wire fences, particularly when overgrown with weeds and vines, is a close second. This Screech Owl came to the rehabilitation center as a young chick because it had fallen out of the nest and had what was believed to be an eye injury. As it grew it became apparent that the damage was to it’s entire right side, not just it’s eye. It is unknown weather or not this is a congenital defect or an injury. This owl is unique among the birds in this post because it has never flown.
The Barn Owl, also know as the “monkey faced owl” is endangered in Indiana primarily due to habitat loss. It feeds almost exclusively on mice and voles which are easily hunted over open fields and grasslands. It too is a cavity dweller but has adapted to our intrusion into it’s habitat by making use of old wooden barns so frequently that it is named for this behavior. In an effort to save this owl from extinction in Indiana those who have suitable hunting grounds for Barn Owls are encouraged to provide “housing” by building a simple nesting box, to invite them to nest.
Unlike other owls, which only reproduce once a year, the Barn Owl can lay up to three clutches of eggs a year.
Both Barn Owls and Screech Owls are not Hoot Owls. They have distinct calls but they are not the characteristic hoot typically associated with owls.
This Barn Owl came to the rehabilitation center after being hit by a plane at an airport in Louisville, KY.
Barred Owls that live in the northern part of the country are partially migratory unlike most other owls. They prefer to hunt and nest in deep woods and wetlands. The Barred Owl will hunt just about anything smaller then itself if the creature is unlucky enough to pass near the perch where it is waiting patiently for it’s prey.
Though Barred Owls are cavity dwellers like other owls, on rare occasions they will “time share” a Red-Tailed Hawk’s nest. The owl will move in and use the nest during the day while the hawk hunts and the hawk will come home to live at night while the owl is hunting. If both birds lay eggs they will even feed each other’s chicks.
Barred owls are hoot owls and but have a distinct call.
The large, satellite dish shaped feather pattern around their eyes serves the purpose of funneling and magnifying sounds to aid in hunting. They are also almost silent in flight. Unfortunately this informative BBC video will come with a loud commercial. It is worth enduring to find out more about these interesting hunting techniques.
This video was filmed last year by my husband from our screened porch. My husband had enough time to try to film the owl with his phone, see that it was not going to work, go get his video camera and shoot this 55 second video before the owl takes off.
Great Horned Owl
The magnificent Great Horned Owl is a top predator, meaning we are the only threat to it. On occasion a Great Horned Owl has been known to prey adult Bald Eagles. As a top predator, just about everything is on the menu but a favorite meal is skunk. The Great Horned Owl sees in black and white so when an unfortunate skunk is lumbering across the forrest floor it more or less looks like a like a neon sign flashing “dinner” to the owl. It is also a big help that the Great Horned Owl has no sense of smell.
This owl has the typical hoot we generally associate with owls.
The Great Horned Owl has another advantage over other predators. It is the first to nest each year, usually in an abandoned hawk’s or crow’s nest. This ensures the Great Horned’s young are larger then their competitors as they grow into their top predator status.
This video was also shot at the presentation. The handler is telling us how this particular owl always behaves in this undignified manner when she is brought out of her box for a presentation.
If you have enjoyed this post about raptors in Indiana consider making a donation to the Dwight Chamberlain Raptor Center. You will help save the lives of raptors and facilitate public education about these often misunderstood predators.