Saturday, 18 January 2014

Loblaw's Long-eared Owl

Today was spent touring around the Hamilton and Niagara areas with David Szmyr. I will put a blog post up in the next few days detailing our sightings with some pictures, but in the mean time I wanted to post some shots of a Long-eared Owl in a very strange location in Georgetown.

What were we doing in Georgetown, you may ask? As it turns out, a Spotted Towhee has been frequenting a bird feeder there for the past little while and was posted to Ontbirds by Jean Farnan this morning. Spotted Towhees are rare but annual in the province and I have them listed as a code 4 species, with 27 accepted records as of the end of 2011. I have seen only two Spotted Towhees in Ontario - one at Port Rowan in 2010, and one near Thunder Bay in 2012 and so I was eager to see a third. David had never seen one in the province before. It was on the way home for us so we stopped in to have a look.

In the limited amount of time we had before sunset we were unable to turn the little guy up. Apparently it had been frequenting several feeders in the area and was more reliable in the AM. While there, we ran into Barb Charlton who mentioned a Long-eared Owl that was easy to see in a busy plaza near downtown Georgetown.

If you look closely at the above photo, you will see a dark lump perched at the top of one of the ornamental trees.

Long-eared Owl - Glen Williams

Yep, it's an owl! Long-eared Owls are well known for their secrecy and most birders only ever see them buried away in the deepest part of a stand of White Spruce or other conifers. They are much more skittish than other owls and are rarely photographed without a twig (or 50) in the frame!

Why would a species that seems to shun open spaces during the daytime be found roosting in a sparse deciduous tree right next to a Loblaws and a Goodlife Fitness in downtown Georgetown? Unfortunately it probably does not bode well for the owl as this is not a normal thing that Long-eared Owls do. Some theories:

 1) It had been moving around at night, hunting, and eventually ended up at this location. Perhaps there was a great food source near the plaza (mice near the garbage bins?) and it spent the night into the early morning hunting there. For this to happen, there was probably a food shortage at its usual hunting location(s). Long-eared Owls are nocturnal and it is probably very dangerous for the owl to leave the relative "safety" of its perch during the day to find a more suitable location. A Long-eared Owl would make a nice snack for a Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Red-tailed Hawk, etc.

2). It had been flushed from its usual stand of conifers and deemed it un-suitable to return, and was forced to land in these particular trees.

3) It is a bird experiencing some sort of migration. Maybe there is an incursion of Long-eared Owls to the south? (Who knows, just a theory!) Birds that are actively migrating often end up in strange places (often weather or diet related).

Long-eared Owl - Glen Williams

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head and is based on nothing more than pure speculation. I don't pretend to be an expert on Long-eared Owls and I haven't done any research into the above theories! Does anyone else have any ideas?

Whatever the case, the bird is likely stressed and/or hungry. Luckily when Dave and I were there, the other people that had stopped along the sidewalk to marvel at the bird gave it its space and did not approach it. For the owl's sake I hope it continues on and finds a safer place to hunt and roost.

Long-eared Owl - Glen Williams


  1. My theory - it smacked into one of those big shiny windows last night, and was a little too dazed to return to its normal roost before the sun came up... Just a guess though. One thing I do know - it made for some sweet photos!

  2. Sounds like a decent theory! Sweet photos, if it weren't for the siding in the background :P