Birdwatch

Birdwatch

Rare and Mysterious

On the lookout for the unusual white hummingbird

By Susan Campbell

If you happen to look out the window and see a flash of white at your hummingbird feeder or flowers, you may not be seeing things. Late summer is when I receive at least a report or two from hosts who have glimpsed a rare pale-colored hummingbird. Given the number of people who feed hummers here in North Carolina, birds in unusual plumage tend to get noticed. And given the network of bird enthusiasts I am familiar with, reports of unusual hummingbirds find their way to my phone or computer pretty quickly.

White hummingbirds include both leucistic (pale individuals) as well as true albinos (completely lacking pigment). Gray or tan hummers are more likely than full albinos. Light-colored individuals have normal, dark-colored soft parts such as dark eyes, feet and bills. Albinos, on the other hand, are very rare. These snow-white birds that sport pink eyes, feet and bills have been documented fewer than 10 times in our state. Only three have been banded and studied closely here to date.

It is not unusual for people to think they are seeing a moth rather than a hummingbird when they encounter a white individual. They do not realize that these beautiful creatures are possible. As much as we now know that they do exist, we know very little about white hummingbirds. Opportunities to study these unique individuals are few and far between. What we do know is that they tend to appear in July or August as young of the year and do not survive into their second year. White feathers are very brittle and likely cannot withstand the stresses of rapid wing beats and long-distance migration. Another curious characteristic is that all of these eye-catching birds have been female. So it is likely that, for whatever reason, this trait is genetically sex-linked.

The first white hummer that I managed to band was a creamy bird in Taylortown  a number of years ago. She was an aggressive individual that roamed the neighborhood terrorizing the other ruby-throateds. The first true albino I documented was in Apex in Wake County, and that individual was even more aggressive; chasing all of the other birds that made the mistake of entering her airspace. For me to have a chance to study a white hummer, I must get word of it quickly before the bird heads out on fall migration. I have missed more than one by less than 24 hours.

The last white hummer I had the privilege to examine close up was an albino a decade ago in Washington, N.C. A mostly white hummingbird gave me the slip in Charlotte four years ago. So, I am way overdue to band yet another. Who knows who I might encounter this season? Each one is so unique. I simply hope to at least hear about another of these tiny marvels before all of the hummingbirds in the central part of our state have headed south.  PS

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.

Birdwatch

Birdwatch

Playing a Cheerful Tune

The Carolina wren sings from dawn to dusk

By Susan Campbell

“Chirpity, chirpity, chirpity, chirp.”  Or is it “teakettle, teakettle, teakettle, tea?”  Or maybe “cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheese?”  Regardless of exactly how it sounds, this bright, cheery song belies a small and drab bird — the Carolina wren. This diminutive critter is rufousy-brown with banded wings and tail. The thin, decurved bill is well-equipped to probe nooks and crannies for its favorite food: insects. Not only do they flit around in trees and vines looking for caterpillars, but they will clamber around on windows, doors and porch furniture for spiders and flies.

Common throughout the Piedmont year-round, Carolina wrens, the state bird of South Carolina, are frequently overlooked — until spring, when their songs can be heard echoing from forests and fields to neighborhoods here in central North Carolina. And a rarity among songbirds, both males and females sing, providing double pleasure. In fact, sometimes they can be heard in duets, advertising their territory, vocalizing repeatedly, any time from dawn to dusk.

At this time of the year, Carolina wrens are a common sight as they seek a protected spot to construct their nests. They frequently prefer houses, sheds or something else manmade over vegetated habitat. Though it may seem foolhardy to us, barbeque grills, bags of potting soil, an old coat or hat may actually provide a perfectly suitable nesting spot. The female will carry in small leaves, pine needles, grasses, moss or even feathers of other birds to create a large, bulky cup nest. She’ll finish it off with a partial roof to hide the eggs and young more effectively. Wrens don’t seem to mind people coming and going, a seemingly welcome trade-off for the protection humans provide from predators. Peek into one of their nests and more likely than not the female or brooding young will just stare back at you.

Sometimes nesting adults demonstrate great resiliency, or even cunning, in adapting to manmade structures. More than once, a Carolina wren female has chosen a nook on one of the trams that circle the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro as a nesting site. The nesting adults sit tight as the vehicle bumps around the property during incubation. Once the young hatch, adults who leave the nest to find food simply wait for the tram (and nest) to return to the parking area to feed their young.

It should not be surprising, then, that these resourceful birds will find their way indoors during spring. If they can, they will squeeze under a door or through a cracked window in order to use the corner of a shelf in a shed or mudroom of a house. When fledging day arrives, the parents simply call the young from the nest and show them how to slip outside. Be prepared for the whole brood to find its way back in and crowd into the nest to roost for days, or even weeks, thereafter.

Each winter I get calls about mysterious critters sleeping on high ledges or porches and carports.  Described as small brown balls, these unidentified sleeping objects almost inevitably turn out to be roosting Carolina wrens. After a yawn or two, wrens tuck their heads under their wings to roost, puffing themselves up and looking decidedly unbirdlike. They may also spend the night hunkered down in a potted plant or basket, frightening the daylights out of anyone who, next morning, comes upon them unaware.

Every year around the holidays, I’ll get a call or two about an unexpected Christmas guest. Seeking the warmest spot they can find, Carolina wrens often decide to huddle up in someone’s Christmas wreath. When subsequent visitors open the front door, the wren instinctively flies toward the brightest light — inside the house, occasioning merry and sometimes frantic holiday antics as everyone shares their favorite scheme for getting the bird back outside where it belongs.

So, if you have ever noticed these birds before, you should not have to go too far to find one — unless it finds you first.  PS

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.

Birdwatch

Birdwatch

Working Without a Net

The bold, acrobatic Carolina chickadee

By Susan Campbell

The chickadee is one of the most beloved feeder birds across the country. Central North Carolina is no exception, but “our” chickadee species is the Carolina chickadee, merely one of five different chickadees commonly found in the United States.

Chickadee species are quite similar, but the Carolina averages the smallest — less than 5 inches in length. It also has a range that extends farthest south: from central Florida, throughout the Gulf States and across to central Texas. The Carolina chickadee overlaps with the more widely distributed black-capped chickadee in parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois. Black-cappeds and Carolina chickadees are very challenging to separate in areas where they are both found. Subtle differences such as the coloration of the edges of the wing feathers and variations in the calls are used to tell them apart. Here in North Carolina, black-cappeds can be found at the highest elevations of the Appalachians.

Carolina chickadees reside in a variety of woodlands across the state, from the mountains to the Outer Banks. They feed on everything from insect larvae to seeds and berries. Their stout, pointed bill is a useful tool for both picking at and prying open food. And these little birds are quite the acrobats: They have very strong feet, which enable them to easily cling upside down when foraging. Carolina chickadees are regular customers year-round not only at our sunflower seed feeder, but on the suet cage feeder. They are very bold, driving off woodpeckers and wintering warblers to get at the protein-rich offerings.

Our chickadees are not migratory, so the same individuals are around from day to day. Family groups will associate from summer through late winter before the young wander away in search of mates of their own. If they are to do so, it has to happen quickly, because the breeding season starts early for these little birds. Carolina chickadees are looking for empty cavities or a small snag by the end of February. Nests of soft materials are built during the month of March. A thick outer layer of mosses or shredded bark is lined with animal fur or plant down. The nest conceals the eggs and insulates the young during the cool days and nights of early spring.

It is fun to watch female chickadees during their nest building. They are the busy architects with the males looking on, defending the territory from other chickadees or competing nuthatches. Clumps of fine cat or dog hair (puggle undercoat is very popular in our yard) will be gathered by the mouthful if available. Otherwise, chickadees will, believe it or not, seek out mammals such as raccoons and pick loose strands of fur to take back to their nests.

A pair of chickadees may raise four to six young in a year. If eggs are lost to predators or the weather, they may try again, provided it is not too late in the season. Often chickadees are replaced by bluebirds or titmice in birdhouses come May or June, once their young have fledged.

So keep an eye out. You may find you have a pair of these feisty birds that has set up housekeeping nearby, or perhaps you will see a new family of chickadees descend on your feeder like the Flying Wallendas. PS

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.

Birdwatch

Birdwatch

The Early Bird

American robins usher in spring

By Susan Campbell

It is early spring in central North Carolina and few migrants are this far north, let alone back and ready to breed. Flocks of American robins have been evident all winter, feasting on dogwoods, hollies and other berry-laden shrubs. But now they are less interested in eating and ready to start a new family. They are, indeed, the “early birds.”

American robins are found throughout most of the United States and Canada. They are one of the most familiar birds on the continent. In winter, thousands from across Canada and the northern tier of states move southward, not as a response to the drop in temperatures but in search of food. Although robins are insectivorous during the warmer months, they become frugivorous in winter. Flocks of thousands are known to forage and roost together here in the Southeast.

Both male and female robins have long black legs, orangey-red breasts and dark gray backs. Males, however, have a darker head and more colorful breasts. Robins use their thin, yellow bills to probe the vegetation and soft ground for invertebrates in the warmer months. Spiders and caterpillars are common prey as well. These birds use both sight and sound to locate prey. It is not unusual to see a robin standing still and then cocking its head as the bird zeroes in on a potential food item just under the soil surface.

Here in our area, come March, male robins return to the territories they have defended in past summers. In bright, fresh plumage, they will sing most of the day from the tops of trees and other elevated perches, attempting to attract a mate. Their repeated choruses of “cheer-ee-o, cheer-ee-up” echo from lowland mixed woodlands to high elevation evergreen forests as well as open parklands in between. Females will accept a male for the season, but once summer draws to a close, so does the pair bond.

Females are the ones who select a nest site and build the nest. Suitable locations are typically on a branch lower in the canopy and support a hefty, open cup nest. Twigs and rootlets are gathered and then reinforced with mud, often the soft castings of the very earthworms they love to eat. The nest will then be lined with fine grasses before the female robin lays three to five light blue eggs. Constant incubation by the mother robin takes about two weeks, followed by two more weeks of feeding by both parents before the young fledge. Robins can potentially raise four broods in a season — although rarely do all nestlings survive. And fewer yet (about 25 percent) will make it through their first year, to breeding age.

Surviving young of the year will wander, often with siblings or a parent, until late summer, when they will flock up with other local birds. Small groups in North Carolina may move farther south if winter food here is scarce or if competition with larger northern flocks is too great. But not long after the New Year dawns, the same birds will be on the way back. Increasing day length triggers their return journey. And thus, the cycle will begin anew.  PS

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.

Birdwatch

Birdwatch

Nesting Season

There’s no place like home

By Susan Campbell

It is almost that time again for our feathered friends: nesting season. Pairs of birds will team up to bring forth the next generation. In some cases, they will even repeat the process once or twice before the days shorten and temperatures begin to drop.

As with so many behaviors, reproduction is triggered by hormonal changes, which are the result of changes in day length. Females will become responsive to the advances of males as daylight increases. And before long, the hunt for a spot to nest will begin. Interestingly, the strategies vary among the bird species we find in central North Carolina.

The investment in nest building for some species is minimal. Killdeer, for instance, only create a slight scrape in a sandy or pebbly surface. They are ground nesting birds whose splotched eggs blend in perfectly with the substrate. Furthermore, killdeer young are precocial, meaning that they are mobile as soon as they hatch and will instantly begin following their parents. There is no nestling phase, so protection of the young birds is unnecessary.

In the Sandhills it is not unusual for mourning doves to nest at ground level in a layer of grasses or small twigs. Even when doves nest in small trees or shrubs, their nest platform is minimal. It is amazing that the eggs or young do not fall through the nest. Then again, this species is known to raise young in virtually any month of the year, so losing an egg or youngster through the cracks is not problematic in the long run.

Cup nests are a very common strategy for nesting — especially among songbirds. Northern cardinals, blue jays, American robins all form a typical nest from small branches, twigs and grasses. Such nests can be visible through the leaves and are not infrequently depredated. As a result, some species, such as blue-gray gnatcatchers and ruby-throated hummingbirds, have evolved to use camouflage in the form of mosses or lichens on the outside of the cup so that the nest is not obvious to predators on a bare limb.

Hawks and eagles have taken nestbuilding to the next level and may create an enormous, cupped platform for their young. These huge stick nests, placed high in a live tree or snag, typically are enlarged with more material every year. They can be very noticeable given their bulk. However, given the size and ferocity of these birds, the strategy is not problematic. Furthermore, one of the adults typically guards the nest until the young are close to fledging.

And then there are the species that use holes: the cavity nesters. Woodpeckers and nuthatches can carve out a cavity in dead wood using their powerful bills with little trouble. Species such as chickadees, titmice, bluebirds or wood ducks will move right into these spaces when the architects move on. It is these birds that many of us have been giving a helping hand by erecting bird boxes. Box design varies by species, of course, given the different reproductive requirements of different birds. The height, the depth of the box and, most importantly, the size of the entrance hole will determine who will move in.

So, if you have not yet done so, this is the time to be cleaning out and repairing nest boxes for the breeding season. Old nests should be removed, and the boxes should be aired out for a day or two.  It would not hurt to give them a rinse with the hose as well — but do NOT use cleaning products. And then stand back: It will not be long before your first feathered tenants will be moving in!  PS

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.

Birdwatch

Poem February 2023

The Eagles Have Landed

America’s bird is on the rebound

By Susan Campbell

Anyone who has had the good fortune to spot a bald eagle, whether soaring overhead or perched along a waterway, cannot help but be awed by their handsome appearance. This large raptor is not only our national symbol but the only eagle found solely in North America.

Benjamin Franklin supposedly lobbied for the wild turkey, the only endemic bird species to the United States, to be our national bird. But Congress decided on the bald eagle in 1782, as a result of its perceived fierce demeanor. In actuality, bald eagles are mainly carrion eaters but will attack wounded mammals, birds and aquatic animals as well. They are very opportunistic and will also snatch prey from crows if they get the chance.

During the first half of the 20th century, eagles were erroneously persecuted by raptor hunters, often by ranchers who were attempting to protect their investments. They were also affected by metal toxicity as a result of feeding on game containing lead shot. Additionally, during the period of broad-scale DDT application, as most people know, the toxin accumulated in carnivores at the top of the food chain. And, as was the case in several bird species, it caused eggshell thinning such that eagle eggs broke long before they could hatch.

Bald eagles were declared an endangered species in 1967. Following the ban on DDT and the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, their numbers began to rebound. On June 28, 2007, the species was declared recovered. Here in North Carolina they are being closely monitored by state biologists. Although the number of nests and young has been increasing, they are still considered threatened here.

In the Sandhills, there are year-round sightings of individuals, most commonly on larger lakes such as Lake Surf (Woodlake) or Lake Pinehurst. At least one pair has been nesting in Moore County for a few years now: in (wait for it) Eagle Springs. Farther north, they can be frequently spotted around Falls or Jordan Lake in the Triangle or Lake Townsend in Greensboro.

In mid-winter, birdwatchers and endangered species biologists are on the lookout for eagle nests. Bald eagle pairs return to their breeding territories and lay eggs ahead of most other raptors (the exception being great horned owls, which begin breeding activities a bit earlier). Their sizable platforms of dead branches and large sticks may or may not be easy to spot. Eagle nests, if they are reused from year to year, will be gradually enlarged but not massive affairs. Newer nests can be well concealed in the top of a live evergreen or large snag.

Eagle young, who typically fledge in April, take three to four years to mature. They will not successfully attract a mate until they have a fully white head and tail. Should you see an adult in the weeks ahead, keep an eye out for a second bird. A pair of adults may mean there is a nest somewhere nearby. If you suspect that you have found a nest, definitely give me a holler!  PS

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.

Birdwatch

PinePitch January 2023

A Winter Wonder

Evening grosbeaks visit the Sandhills

By Susan Campbell

Evening grosbeaks are a most unexpected surprise in North Carolina during the winter months. Last month I made a similar claim about purple finches, explaining that food shortages further north would bring these raspberry-colored songbirds our way in numbers over the coming months. In fact, much to my delight, that has already happened at our feeders in Apex. But evening grosbeaks, which could be found reliably here in our state every few years, are nowhere as numerous as they were just a couple of decades ago. Therefore, they are far less likely to appear even when seed resources plummet across southern Canada and the northern United States.

Evening grosbeaks are robin-sized birds with a distinctive heavy white bill and varying amounts of yellow feathering, depending on the bird’s age and sex. All individuals have white and black wings as well as a gray crown and nape. Adult males with their yellow eyebrows and bellies are hard to miss. Immatures as well as adult females are more muted, having limited yellow feathering above with gray underparts.

Being larger, grosbeaks’ songs and calls can carry a good distance. Furthermore, they are almost always found in flocks during the colder months. So they are likely to vocalize a good bit throughout the day. You may be startled by the cacophony of warbling songs or hear their buzzy chips as they keep track of one another.

These big birds have a broad diet. As with most songbirds, evening grosbeaks feed heavily on insects and insect larvae during the spring and summer. But beginning in early fall they seek out berries, not as much for the fruit but for the seeds contained within. With their large bill and strong tongue, they can easily manipulate these sizable morsels to get at the protein in the middle. During the colder weather they can be found foraging on seeds from maple, ash, tulip poplar and pine. It is likely that a combination of a better-than-average breeding season with a poor mast crop is causing their winter range expansion. Individuals and small groups have already been spotted in our state — all the way to the coast. I was startled to hear one calling a couple weeks ago from high in the forest along the creek at Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve in Southern Pines. And I expect it is not the only encounter I will have this season.

Laying out the welcome mat for these handsome birds is not complicated. Of course, your odds of attracting evening grosbeaks are better if you have the native vegetation they favor. Commonly cultivated apples, cherries and Russian olives will also get their attention. Feeding stations with sunflower seeds will be a draw, of course — especially if the seeds are hulled. Additionally, they will consume peanuts and other larger nuts like pecans and even walnut pieces.

Given the size of a grosbeak, you can imagine that the amount of seed they consume on a winter’s day is not insignificant. But folks lucky enough to host them are usually willing to provide as much seed as the birds will eat. Paying the price for such special guests is worth the investment, especially if you are a Southern birdwatcher who likely will only have such an incredible opportunity once in a lifetime.  PS

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.

Birdwatch

An Uncommon Visitor

The feisty purple finch is in the hood

By Susan Campbell

If you happen to be maintaining a bird feeding station over the next few months, you will want to be on the lookout for an uncommon winter visitor: the purple finch. These feisty little birds are common to our north but some years, when their numbers surge as a result of above average reproductive success, they head further to the south following the breeding season.

It seems that spruce budworms were abundant in boreal forests in June and July, and this resulted in a bumper crop of baby finches. Like most of our songbirds, nestling purple finches require lots of caterpillars to grow into strong fledglings. The family groups merged into wintering flocks sometime in the last couple of months and are working their way southward, as they always do. Given their numbers, purple finches will spread much farther throughout the eastern half of the United States than they normally would. They’ve already been spotted in forests and at feeders in North Carolina.

Purple finches are robust birds that are larger than the chickadees and titmice, which they often associate with during the cooler months. They appear most similar to our ever-present house finches. Male purple finches are not really “purple” as their name would imply. They are more of a raspberry color. In addition to their coloring, they have a distinct whitish eye stripe and heavier bills than their cousins. Females and immature males that lack color can be overlooked as just another little brown bird at your feeder. But note that they are more aggressive and have that distinctive eyebrow. As so many of our winter feeder visitors do, purple finches love black oil sunflower. But they also will come to nyjer, or “thistle seed.” They, like goldfinches, find this tiny but highly fatty seed irresistible.

Away from feeders, purple finches feed on the seeds from conifers to tulip poplar, maple seeds to ragweed, and even dandelions. They may mix in with local house finches at feeding stations or simply with wintering sparrows in brushy habitat. These birds crush seeds and fruits using their powerful bills and strong tongues. The nut inside is consumed completely; therefore, purple finches are considered to be predatory and not dispersal agents, as many birds are.

You may notice a flock as a result of the males chorusing at the tops of trees. Purple finch song is distinguished by a fast rising and falling series of up to two dozen notes. Interestingly, males may incorporate bits of songs sung by other species where they breed. It is not that rare to hear American goldfinch or rufous-sided towhee notes mixed in.

If purple finches learn to efficiently find food as well as avoid predators, they can live a relatively long time for a small bird. The oldest known individual was documented as living over eight and a half years. It was a banded bird — recaptured right here in North Carolina.  PS

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.

Birdwatch

Early Signs of Winter

Sighting the white-throated sparrow

By Susan Campbell

Here in the central part of North Carolina, the winged harbinger of winter is the white-throated sparrow. Summering in the forests of the far North, this bold little bird breeds across Canada and at elevation in northern New England. A medium-sized sparrow, it is brown above and white below with bold markings on the head. Pale stripes on the crown and a white throat patch are set off by gray feathers on the face. White-throateds also sport a yellow spot at the base of their stout bill.

Interestingly, there are two color forms of this species: those with heads that are white-striped as well as those that are tan-striped. Both forms persist because, as much as white-striped individuals are more aggressive during the breeding season, each almost always pair with the other type. Nests are made by the female in a depression on the ground under a low-growing tree or shrub. However, should it be depredated, the second nest may be placed on low branches.

If you have not spotted one of these birds, you almost certainly have heard their distinctive loud “seet” call emanating from thick vegetation. Their song, which can be heard even during cold weather, is a recognizable, liquid “oh sweet Canada” or to some, more of an “old Sam Peabody.” Since they tend to flock together, you are likely to encounter small groups along forest edges, farm fields, parks and suburban areas that have thick shrubbery.

White-throateds are commonly found at feeding stations, often in association with dark-eyed juncos, another bird of high country. These squatty sparrows actually have a broad diet. Although they primarily feed on a range of seeds during the winter months, their preference shifts during the year. In spring, they are more likely to seek out buds and flowers of fresh vegetation.

White-throated sparrows do not walk or run but hop when on the ground. As they forage, they will forcefully scratch backward in leaf litter using both feet and pouncing on food items that they uncover. These birds will also flick aside dead leaves using their bills. In the winter months, pecking orders form within flocks with the more aggressive males dominating.

If you want to attract white-throated sparrows this winter, it is easy and inexpensive. Since they tend to stay low, scattering a seed mix in a cleared spot near shrubs or other thick vegetation is all it may take. White-throateds will hop up onto a stump or low platform feeder as well. Easier yet, simply leave a portion of your yard unmown until spring, and these predictable visitors may well turn up to take advantage of the resulting seeds that remain as the growing season winds down.  PS

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.

Birdwatch

What a Hoot

Call of the barred owl

By Susan Campbell

Owls definitely fall into the “spooks” category for many people. But there is one species that tends to be more endearing than scary: the barred owl. Maybe you have heard the “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you a-a-a-a-ll?”  echoing through bottomland forest. The song is most frequently heard in early spring when male barred owls are claiming territory and advertising for a mate. But they actually can be heard vocalizing any time of the year. These are large but well camouflaged birds. Only a little bit smaller than the great horned owl, barreds are often their close neighbors. Disputes over space and feeding areas are not uncommon. Vocal sparring early in the year can get quite heated; however, male barred owls can be heard now, calling or squawking not only at night but at dawn and dusk as well.

This owl gets its name from the distinct vertical brown streaks on its breast, belly and flanks. The bird’s spotted head and dorsal surface, in addition to the barring, make it very hard to spot during daylight hours when it is perched motionless close to the trunk of a large tree. Their liquid brown eyes make them very endearing to bird lovers far and wide.

Barred owls find a wide variety of prey in swamps and bottomland forests. They feed on not only mice, rats, rabbits, small and medium sized birds, but reptiles and amphibians as well. These owls will also wade into shallow streams and pools after crayfish and small fish. At dusk, barred owls take advantage of large flying insects such as moths and large beetles.

Barreds, in spite of their size, actually nest in cavities. They will use old woodpecker holes, rotted stump holes and even larger manmade nest boxes. Up to five young are raised by both parents for close to a full year. Adult barred owls are sedentary and probably mate for life. This likely explains why they tend to be so defensive of their territory. Not surprisingly, during the breeding season, the larger-bodied female barred owls are the most aggressive. Raccoons, opossums and hawks are common nest predators. But it is great horned owls that are the greatest predatory threat, so competition can be quite intense. 

These owls are not averse to roosting, or even nesting, close to human habitation. People who get close to a nest may be subjected to distraction displays. The female may call loudly, quiver her wings or even attack with her talons. So, should you ever discover a nest hole, it is best to give it a wide berth to avoid any unintended consequences. They are known to use the same cavity year after year if they are successful. A pair of barred owls was documented to use the same cavity in the middle of the campus of the University of North Carolina for six seasons.

Despite the fact that they are non-migratory, barreds have expanded their range. Over the last century, they have moved westward into the Pacific Northwest and into southwestern Canada. They are in the process of displacing other native owls of the region including their close cousin, the endangered spotted owl. Certainly the future of this endearing species seems quite secure in our area.  PS 

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.