Barred Owls: Ghostly Voice of the Swamp

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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“Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” That’s the classic ghostly call of the Barred Owl, an owl very much at home in Oakland County. The rising and falling melody with a hint of a southern drawl in the last few syllables reminds naturalists that the owl’s breeding season is here. Yet, others less admiring of the raucous chorus of barred owls hooting back and forth may describe the sounds as the music of a troop of rowdy monkeys. That description  is very close to the truth.

Follow the Cornell Lab of Ornithology link to hear the calls of barred owls: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/barred_owl/sounds 

Every now and then, a hiker might hear or even see a barred owl perched on a tree limb in daylight. Oakland County Parks, Huron-Clinton Metroparks and the State Recreation Areas of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (located in Oakland County) all host these beautiful raptors of the night. Barred owls favor wooded wetlands with nearby open areas for hunting; that means trailside swaths of Addison Oaks, Highland Oaks, Independence Oaks, Lyon Oaks, Rose Oaks and Springfield Oaks county parks are perfect barred owl habitats.

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Barred Owls: Winged Warriors of Wooded Wetlands

Wilder Side of Oakland County

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Oakland County is home to the barred owl. This well-camouflaged raptor with soulful brown eyes and vertical stripes thrives in secrecy in wooded wetlands and the forest edge and is heard more often than seen.  Its loud nine syllables rising and falling high-pitched hoots are unmistakable:   “Who cooks for you?  Whoooo cooks for you-all!”     Naturalists love to share the fact that the owl song seems to have a southern drawl.  And it does! And when several barred owls hoot back and forth the best description might just be monkeys chattering.

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February is the peak of breeding season and even with woodlands  deep with snow  and temperature hovering in single digits barred owls are preparing nest sites; usually  in  tree cavities. These year round avian residents of Oakland County favor large protected parklands and wilder sections of the county; ideal habitat for hunting and breeding.  Addison Oaks, Highland Oaks, Independence Oaks and Rose Oaks County Parks might just be at the top of their real estate listings.

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Ornithology literature clearly states that barred owls hunt by night and roost on tree branches or in tree cavities by day.   However the barred owl in these images was hunting in typical barred owl fashion late in the afternoon last week in northern Oakland County.  The owl selects a tree limb that provides a bird’s eye view of a meadow or field and then it waits.  And watches.  And listens.   The slightest sound or motion draws the owl’s attention.

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When the owl is certain of the exact location of dinner – a mouse McMeal that may be moving under the snow- it glides down on silent wings and makes the kill.  And after a successful hunt it’s time for a nap on a tree branch in the wilder side of Oakland County

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Text and photos by Jonathan Schechter, Nature Education Writer, Oakland County Parks www.destinationoakland.com