Owls Above, Oohs and Ahs Below

This originally appeared in the Wild About blog.

One of the highlights of the time I spend as a volunteer on night hikes at Armand Bayou is owl sightings.  We usually see them near the bird blind.  Often, it’s one person in the group who sights an owl and calls to the others: “Look! An owl!” Everyone shushes everyone else while we look above us.  It is extraordinary to see what appear to be puffs of white with long elegant wings fly from one tree to another.  As we gaze at them, the bird flies back the way it came and lights on a branch.  We wait expectantly for another flyover, sometimes to no avail. So far, I have seen only barred owls. If we’re fortunate we hear their call, which sounds like a hooted “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?”

I never thought much about owls until I wrote an article recently about the great horned owl.  Now I’m hooked.  The great horned is a fully outfitted hunter, a predator whose prey is basically anything in the forest that can’t move fast enough to get away.  Those may not sound like positive characteristics, but of course they are animals and mean no harm to anyone except their dinner. 

The barred owl lives year-round in east Texas. They nest in trees but don’t mind squatting in another animal’s nest.  According to the Texas Breeding Bird Atlas, their habitat is threatened:

Deforestation and harvesting of large trees degrades Barred Owl habitat. Also, bottomland forests have been greatly reduced by reservoir construction and inundation and adjacent development…

The reduction in barred owl habitat affords the great horned owl more space – which is unfortunate because the great horned doesn’t mind eating barred owls. 

That sounds terrible too, doesn’t it?  But as with everything in a nature preserve like ABNC, you may start out saying “ooh” and “ah,” but if you take time to learn more, you’ll understand that no matter how beautiful the surface, the rules of nature still apply.  No matter how we would like to imagine these beautiful birds, they, like all animals, are most interested in the basics of survival. 

But by no means does that mean we can’t appreciate them.  That’s why we come to ABNC after all – to learn about animals living in the wild, doing what nature directs them to.