Bird of the Month: Barred owls
In Minnesota, we are known for our owls. We host a number of different species including great horned owls, short-eared owls, northern saw-whet owl and even the snowy owl. Of all the owls in Minnesota, perhaps the one with the most recognizable call is the barred owl. Birders often use mnemonics to remember bird calls, and a common refrain used for the barred owl is "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?"
Barred owls like to eat small mammals, like mice, shrews, squirrels and rabbits. You'll most likely find them in the woods, and they can be found hunting any time of day, although they may be more active at dawn or dusk. Owls are excellent hunters. They are known to be silent predators thanks to specialized feathers that reduce the sound of air rushing past their wings as they descend on their prey.
Although they can sometimes be difficult to find, you can still see barred owls in the Red Wing area in winter and you can find specific locations each year by checking eBird species maps online. Those curious enough to go looking may find several other owl species, as well.
Audubon's Christmas Bird Count
Many of you may brave the chilly weather to look for owls and many other birds during Audubon's Christmas Bird Count, the nation's longest-running citizen science bird project.
Every year in December, and the beginning of January, thousands of volunteers across the United States, Canada and other countries participate in the Christmas Bird Count by going with friends and family to discover the birds in their communities and nearby natural areas. Groups tend to go out for several hours and light-heartedly brag about who spotted the greatest the number of bird species or the most unexpected bird species.
The CBC's history is rooted in conservation, as it helped to replace the tradition of Christmas "side hunts." During side hunts, various groups of hunters would compete for who could harvest the most birds. This was important because at the end of the 19th century, when Audubon societies started forming, there were very few protections for birds. Birds like the passenger pigeon were hunted to extinction, and many other birds were on the brink.
Audubon's Christmas Bird Count has been going strong for 117 years. Dedicated citizen scientists, many of whom face freezing temperatures, document where they are finding our nation's birds. This documentation has been instrumental in a number of reports such as State of the Birds reports as well as the Audubon Birds & Climate Change Report. The CBC continues to provide scientists with a wealth of data that would be otherwise impossible to collect.
How to Get Involved
The Christmas Bird Count is a great activity for families and friends who are gathering during the holidays, and counts are conducted between Dec.14 to Jan. 5 every year. You can participate in as many CBC groups as you are able.
Each count takes place in an established 15-mile-wide diameter circle, and is organized by a CBC organizer near you or a compiler. Count volunteers follow specified routes through designated areas, counting every bird they see or hear throughout the day. It's not just a species tally — all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day.
Participants must make arrangements in advance with a compiler, but anyone can participate. If you are a beginning birder, you should join a group that includes at least one experienced birdwatcher.
All this and more can be found on Audubon's website, where you will find a map showing which circle you live in and how to contact your area's compiler. Visit audubon.org/cbc for more information.
If you're unable to join this year's CBC for any reason, there are many other citizen science projects that you can join. You are always welcome to go birding and submit your observations to eBird. Also, in February, you can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count. The GBBC takes place President's Day weekend and you can count the birds each day in your backyard/community and then enter the results online.
For all those who already participate in the Christmas Bird Count and other citizen science projects: Thank you! The time and effort you volunteer to count birds, and submit your discoveries, helps scientists understand what's happening to our avian friends and helps informs important conservation management decisions.