owl pellet in hand

According to my best current information, there have been six species of owls recorded on the ol’ Laben farm. I have personally seen or heard Snowy, Barn, Great Horned, and Eastern Screech Owls; my brother, who now lives in my grandfather’s old house, has also seen Barred, to no one’s surprise. (What is surprising is no Long-eared, although my comedian siblings reported ‘long-tongued’ and ‘long-legged’ owls when I asked; I would also like to see Short-eared on the property someday, since we have still got enough grasslands to support Northern Harrier.)

If you count, that is five. While I was home for Christmas, another brother came in from a smoke break and reported that he’d heard a call he didn’t recognize; using the ever-helpful Cornell Lab of O website, we quickly zeroed in on the tooting call of the Northern Saw-what Owl. This common but seldom-seen little owl is an expert at evading notice, so I was excited by the tip. We scanned outside briefly in the dark, but had no luck even when I briefly played a recording on my phone.

In the morning, my mother told me that she, too, had heard the mystery owl earlier the same evening. I decided to go out and poke around the hedge of dense evergreens that separate my parents’ yard from the neighbors; it looked like a promising spot, comparable to the other (highly secret!) locations where I’ve seen Saw-whets in the past. Of course, like the man says, past performance is no guarantee of future results. I did not find an owl of any kind. I did find a great many droppings, though, and heaps of feathers from a small and obviously eaten bird… and as my lovely photo above shows, a few owl pellets as well.

Obviously this is not good enough for listing, but I think it’s fair to say that the Olde Homestead is playing host to some kind of small, invisible owl this holiday season.

Written by Carrie
Carrie Laben, after years of writing and birding in New York, moved to Montana to pursue her two great passions more effectively. She recently graduated with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Montana in Missoula. When she is not cranking out essays and speculative fiction stories, or wandering around on mountains failing to see the birds she is looking for, she is likely to be drinking one of the many fine local microbrews or attending a potluck with something from the local farmer’s market in hand. On Mondays from 3 to 3:30 Mountain Time you can find her answering questions about birds on live chat at DaysAtDunrovin.com.