OWL HOUSES INFORMATION
All owls have specially designed eyes, ears, and wings to enable them to capture their prey. Their eyes are large and on the front of their faces, giving them binocular vision and fine depth perception. They have a large concentration of rods on their retinas, but they see little color. Their eyes are ten times as light-sensitive as human eyes, but they are short-sighted so they hunt near the ground. Their eyes are so large that there is little room in their skulls for eye muscles. Thus an owl turns its head, sometimes as much as 270 degrees, rather than its eyes, to follow a moving object.
Owl ears are located on the sides of the "facial disks," those round feather arrangements, and give owls the most highly developed sense of hearing of all birds. The facial feathers help to amplify and channel sounds to their ears. Generally one ear is larger than the other and slightly above or below, so the owl can pinpoint the location of a sound. It can hear a mouse or a cricket in the grass below!
The owl's feathers are silent in flight. The wings have downy fringes along the stiff flight feathers which muffle sound as the owl approaches its prey.
Owls swallow their prey whole. Then later they cough up a "pellet" of bones and fur. Owls can often be found in the woods by locating these pellets on the ground, or by finding their white droppings, called "whitewash."
None of the species of owl in North America is a nest builder. The Eastern and Western Screech Owls, among others, nest in cavities and take readily to a birdhouse.
The Eastern Screech Owl (Otus asio) lives generally in wooded areas east of the Rockies, while its Western cousin (Otis kennicottii) lives to the west of them. They look a lot alike, with small, thick bodies and large "ear" tufts, which are not actually ears at all (the ears are located on each side of the head, beside the eyes). Most are a gray-brown color with whitish spots and stripes throughout. They have sharp, hooked beaks and powerful feet. The adult owls are only 8 to 9 inches tall.
The name might indicate that the sound they make is a screech, but it comes closer to singing. It is a favorite sound of many bird lovers on warm spring nights.
Screech owls breed from March, in the South, into July further north, and inhabit a small area close to the site of their nest. They have one brood a year of four to six young, and they are not generally migratory, preferring to be year-round residents.
Screech owls are typical "night owls," hunting at night and sleeping during the day. They have a varied diet of small rodents and night-flying insects. They may even be seen catching moths under city street lights.
Because they also occasionally eat other small birds that may be roosting in the trees at night, you may want to place the owl house away from the houses for your other birds.
The Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) is named for its call, which sounds like filing or "whetting" a saw. It also gives a series of short, monotonous whistles during breeding season. It is a small owl, only about 7" tall, without "ear tufts," and with large yellow eyes. It is brown, streaked with white above, with a reddish-brown facial disk and streaks of white and reddish-brown on the underside.
The Saw-whet Owl generally lives in low, moist, coniferous or mixed wooded areas, in evergreen thickets, wooded swamps, or even in isolated pine trees. It likes the densest parts of trees where it can roost safely without being seen from above by predatory hawks and owls. It is almost entirely nocturnal, roosting during the day in or near their nesting hole, or in dense foliage during the winter.
Saw-whets are very tame, and very sound sleepers, when roosting. They are difficult to find, but may be approached and even held.
At night they prey on insects, mice and other small rodents. They may occasionally eat a small bird as well.
Saw-whet owls are found nesting across the northern and western states and southern Canada. They winter primarily through the middle West and the lower South.
The Barred Owl (Strix varia) can be recognized by a pattern of "bars," or stripes, running across its chest horizontally and down its belly vertically. In contrast to many other owls with yellow eyes, this owl has dark brown eyes.
This owl is the most commonly heard at night, with a typical "hoot" associated with owls. It sounds a bit like "Who cooks for you?"
The Barred Owl is about 20" long with a 44" wing span. It has no ear tufts. It lives in low, wet woods and swampy forests, but it also likes residential areas with lots of trees. It feeds at night on rodents, birds, frogs and crayfish and rests during the day. It is one of the few owls which will take to a nesting box and requires no nesting materials. It generally does not migrate, but resides year-round east of the Rockies.
The young Barred Owl can climb trees, even as nestlings and young fledglings. Sometimes they leave the nest before they can fly, so they are able to get back safely.
The Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is one of only five species of owl which take to birdhouses readily. It makes some of the most unusual of all bird sounds. It may resemble the screech of metal scraping against metal or the rush of steam coming out of an engine.
Its large white, heart-shaped face makes the Barn Owl easily recognized: the male and female look alike. It is a large bird, 18" high with a wing span of 44". It is buff-brown above and white below.
The Barn Owl eats meadow voles and other rodents almost exclusively. It does most of its hunting for food at night. The Barn Owl's breeding period is March into July. Its territory is only the area around the nest site. The nest may be lined with leaves, grasses and other debris.
The Barn Owl is found in all but the northernmost states and migrates slightly south from northern areas.