Saturday, April 10, 2010

Owl on the Prowl

We kicked off the spring field trip season this past week with visits from three Orchard Elementary School classes. On Thursday, Ms. Cox's fourth grade joined us for birding adventures on Norm's Island. Half-way through our hike we had already seen about ten species of local birds. But the best was yet to come. We rounded a corner, and in a cottonwood tree, only 50 feet from the trail, we spotted a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). This large owl can be up to two feet tall, with a wingspan of five feet. The female owls are larger than the males, though the males have deeper voices. An owl pair will call back and forth with the familiar "hoo hohoho hoo hoo". Check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website to listen to its call.
The owl sat motionless on the branch with the exception of its head, which swirled around backwards to look in our direction. We could see the tall tufts of feathers on its head; these are the "horns" for which it is named. All owls have excellent hearing and eyesight, which helps them to hunt at night. Their eyes are set facing forward in a dish-shaped face. The forward-looking eyes give the bird greater depth perception to help them hone in on prey. The dish shape helps to gather sounds, similar to how a satellite dish collects signals from the sky. This enables the owl to be a very effective predator!
Great Horned Owl nesting season occurs early, in January or February. This is when the males and females hoot to each other, oftentimes we hear them in the evening. When close they bow to each other, with drooped wings in a courtship display. Mutual bill rubbing and preening (cleaning of feathers) also occurs. They do not build a nest of their own but utilize the nests of other birds such as the hawk, crow and heron. They may also use squirrel nests, hollows in trees, abandoned buildings, or artificial platforms. They are extremely aggressive when defending the nest. Normally, two to four eggs are laid and incubated by the female for 26-35 days. Young owlets start roaming from the nest onto nearby branches at 6 to 7 weeks, but cannot fly well until 9 to 10 weeks old. They are fed for another few weeks as they are slowly weaned. Families remain loosely associated during summer before young disperse in the autumn. Adults tend to remain near their breeding areas year-round while juveniles disperse widely, over 250 km (150 miles) in the autumn. Territories are maintained by the same pair for as many as 8 consecutive years, however, these owls are solitary in nature, only staying with their mate during the nesting season. To learn more about this fascinating creature, check out the MT Fish, Wildlife, and Parks field guide pages.
Thanks to Ms. Cox's class for quietly observing this majestic bird with me!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Earth Day Celebration

Come celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day! Worldwide this April people will be participating in projects that connect them in service to the natural world, and that help to raise awareness of ecological issues. Earth Day began in 1970 when US Senator Gaylord Nelson launched a grassroots "environmental teach-in" that took the form of environmental clean-ups, restoration projects, and educational projects nationwide.

On Saturday April 17th here at the ACEC we'll be planting and launching floating islands to help clean up the water in Deep Mill Pond. We'll also plant shrubs and flowers to create butterfly and bird habitat gardens around our new building. A bit of trash cleanup will round out the morning of restoration activities (8 am - noon).
We'll break for a free BBQ lunch, sponsored by Buchanan Capital, LLC. During lunch, Amy Cilimburg will give a short presentation on Birds in a Warming World. Then we'll go hiking in search of birds and insects, and will learn about life in the ponds while practicing our canoeing skills. Join for an hour or the whole day! Families are welcome. No fee for participation. Bring water, sun protection (hat and sunblock), and work gloves. Also a shovel if you have one (please make sure to label it with your name).
I hope to see you soon! Call me with any questions (Heather Ristow at 406 - 294 - 5099 or