Owl hoots have echoed recently in Prospect Park near the Witch’s Hat Tower, and sightings of the owl, an eagle and other birds have turned neighborhood walks into bird-watching outings, and the neighborhood’s email list-serve into a birder’s forum.
About 6:45 p.m. on March 5, while local resident Karen Murdock and a friend were walking to the Prospect Park Garden Club potluck, they heard an owl on Orlin Avenue.
“We stayed outside listening for about 5 minutes,” Murdock reported on the Prospect Park e-list. “The call came over and over again. It sounded like this: ‘hoo-hoo-hoo-HOOOOO.’
Garden Club member Bill Turek told Murdock that it is probably a barred owl, whose cry is said to mimic: “Who cooks for YOOOOO?” (See photos of barred owls on The Owl Pages.)
Also that week, along the path of the river beneath East River Road, local resident Mary Jo Schifsky and her dog were out for a walk when, in broad daylight, they saw a dozen crows chasing a horned-ear owl.
“(They) were just harassing the owl down the river,” wrote Schifsky. “It swooped and swooped, turned back around and came overhead, perched on high branches and was just in its territory.”
Crows are known to “mob owls to keep them away from their nests, since owls are predators and view crows as potential food,” wrote another e-list member in response to a post that spoke highly of crows, calling them “neat birds,” “Great at cleaning up,” and “Probably brighter than either the owl or the eagle.”
Later on in the walk, near the switchback to come back up to East River Road, Schifsky spotted an eagle high in a tree overlooking the river, its white head shining in the light.
“It looked very healthy and alert,” wrote Schifsky. “It paid no attention to us.”
Schifsky also noticed a couple of northern flickers — large members of the woodpecker family — engaged in a mating ritual of calling and hopping about.
Keep your eyes and ears open — particularly at twilight — for these avian harbingers of spring. Like the flickers, barred owls are mating this time of year, a fact that e-list member Karen Murdock confirmed by consulting Birds of Prey of Minnesota: Field Guide by Stan Tekiela.
Quoting from the book, Murdock wrote on the e-list that “[the barred owl, Strix varia] prefers dense deciduous woodland with sparse undergrowth.” A map given in the book shows the non-migrating owl’s year-round range “covering the entire forested area of Minnesota —approximately the eastern two-thirds of the state.”
The Bridge would love to publish a picture of the Prospect park owl. If one can be had, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.