Ok so I missed posting in Bird Love Week because I came down with a horrible flu. No wait, that was the excuse I used last time. This time it was because I got a strange double-dose of typer’s block. Similar to writer’s block but different. Mike and Corey (the guys that keep us all in line here at 10,000 Birds) are probably reading this and saying, “Yeah right”. Well, it really doesn’t matter what my excuse is because what I’m about to share is freakin owlsome! Even if it is several weeks late and all the animal-love voyeurs have stopped visiting the site.
In late January this year we were commissioned by Florida’s Space Coast to produce an episode on the birding of the area and the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. I have been to this festival for the last 5 years and have watched it grow and develop into arguably the best birding festival in North America. Not only does the festival have an incredible line-up of speakers and exhibitors, but it also gives festival-goers the opportunity to go birding in the field with some of the world’s best known birding personalities. We had scheduled one of our afternoons to go and look for Barred Owls in the Palm Bay area of Brevard County. Palm Bay is a fairly typical piece of Florida suburbia and is the most populous city in the county. But the suburbs, with their substantial stands of oak trees, are home to a healthy population of these beautiful owls.
Barred Owls love old growth trees with good cover Richard Crossley
Prior to this excursion I had read that studies have shown that populations of Barred Owls increase faster in suburban neighborhoods than in old growth forests. However, the increase in offspring is offset by other factors affecting owls in suburban environments, including impacts with cars and disease. Additionally, I learnt that Barred Owls are more likely than most North American owl species to be active during the day. Inspired by this knowledge, our crew drove the suburbs slowly with the windows down, looking for suitable patches. Our first stop failed to produce but eventually we came to a nice little neighborhood fringed by mature oak hammocks and interspersed with dominant trees in the backyards of the local residents.
We set up the sound equipment and gave it one quick blast. That’s all it took and immediately a pair of Barred Owls flew in and started calling right above us in a giant oak tree. I’m always in two minds about using tape to call in birds. Its controversial for sure and rightly so. So please excuse me going on a quick tangent here. My take on using tape is that its ok as long as it is used in moderation and with ethical consideration for the situation at hand. In others words, don’t play tape around nesting birds, especially raptors. Don’t overplay the tape. As soon as the birds come in, resist the temptation to play the call more to lure them in closer. Often this has the opposite effect as the birds figure out that you’re a mimic and they disappear. And, it goes without saying, NEVER play tape in National Wildlife Refuges or National Parks, where the practice is illegal.
So back to the situation at hand…Both owls flew in and began calling. Now, for those readers that haven’t heard a Barred Owl call before, it is truly is a wonderful and irreplaceable sound. Barred Owls are known by two other names and, not surprisingly, these names reflect the sounds that these large owls produce – “Eight Hooter” and “Hoot Owl”. A well-known national restaurant chain in the United States loves Barred Owls. Amazing that they named their restaurants for these lovely owls. Just shows how far-reaching birding is.
The two birds called to each other back and forth, a particularly vigorous display of avian duets. And then it happened without warning in full daylight. Whilst I was filming the female calling, the male flew in and mounted her briefly, before jumping off and disappearing from view. No prizes for endurance. I couldn’t believe what we had just witnessed and recorded for posterity. To be fair to the male and save him some face, I’ve slowed down the incident in the below video.
To watch the full episode on the Space Coast of Florida, please click on the below video. Enjoy! I’m off to Hooters to find out more about how the restaurant chain got its name.