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Friday, October 25, 2013


Nellie vocalizing/hooting.

The last 3 nights around midnight you may have heard the owl hootenanny going on at our house. It has been a cacophony of monkey hoots and back and forth "who cooks for you."  Barred owls are the most social of all the owls and when they communicate, it is usually just to say "I'm here, where are you" or when they are courting you can add "and when you are bringing my dinner? I need to be wooed. This stuff ain't free." But lately, this has been territory hooting because we have 2 pairs of owls who don't like it when the other invades each other's space.  They really just fly around from branch to branch hooting at each other and giving each other the stink owl eye. I love living here so be able to witness this. Here are two awesome videos of the sounds and what the owls look like when they hoot. 2 minutes of audio and photos one minute video of owl vocalizing.

Monday, July 29, 2013

True facts about Owls

Click on the link below for a wonderful short documentary on owls done in the vein of the honey badger.

Our owls are still around and hooting.  The last two nights, they have started their hootfest in the large pin oak tree in our front yard.  The younger ones seem to have more fun just hooting back and forth and flying short distances from tree to tree. Sort of like "Watch me. See what I can do." "You ain't nothing. Watch this."

A reminder to be careful using pesticides. Owls eat caterpillars (typically the moth caterpillars which are huge) and birds eat caterpillars so anything sprayed with pesticides is poisonous to them as well.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Murder of Crows but a Parliament of Owls....

Several fun things have been happening in Barred Owl Land. The parents and their triplets are still around Edgehill Park. The triplets will likely be for another month before they go find their own territory. If you take a stroll around the park around dusk, you can understand why it's such a perfect place for owls.  Robins tend to be one of the last ones to call it a night so they still lounge around in the grass looking for worms.  As they look down, they are unaware that an owl is above them is about to make a meal of them.  Adult owls tend to be higher in the trees since their vision is more developed while the juveniles tend to be lower as their vision and timing skills are still developing. Mice and voles scurry about and try to avoid the talons.  Rabbits are the easiest prey (which I hate) but their defense is being "scared stiff."  Owls can only see prey if the prey is moving.  When a rabbit is scared and is afraid to move, they are very safe from the owls.There are lots of bats around but because of their sporadic and spastic flight patterns, they are very challenging for owls to catch. When the creek is full, there are crayfish, frogs, and small fish to eat.

I saw one of the triplets on a low hanging branch and happened to have my owl call with me so I hooted the barred owl call and a sibling came right away.  It was very cool so I tried it again and the owl who came looked at me and realized it was that lady who stares at us all the time and not my real feathered mom and took off.

I hadn't hear the owl in the back yard for about a month and when I did, I grabbed a mouse to put on the platform and Nellie (I think) grabbed it right away and savored it for about an hour.  The Gaines' came by and I brought them to the back yard to see Nellie (just so you don't think I make this stuff up) and then two baby owls came.  I got another mouse. One made a fly by and missed but the second time grabbed it.  I felt bad for the other owl but I was out of mice. So amazing.

The best way to see owls is to listen for the mobbing calls of song birds or the cawing of crows.  This often happens during the day when owls are trying to sleep. They pick a quiet spot under cover of leaves and hope that no one notices them.  Owls really don't seem to care that they get picked on.  Either the offending birds give up or they owl just finds another spot. The owl can't really attack in this situation because the smaller birds are better at maneuvering small places and the owl needs space to fly that 4-foot wing span and land the talons.

Our daughter was home and for exercise, ran around Edgehill Park every night around 10 o'clock.  Each time, the baby owl would follow her. One time the owl landed on  a street sign so Sarah decided to see how close she could get. She got within six feet then touched the sign. At that point, the baby fly off and Mama Owl started hooting and flew near. I did a little research on and found out that baby owls are learning to be territorial and Sarah was in his territory which he was defending. It's the usual reason that owls attack. They can do harm. Someone told me of a woman in Dilworth who got a concussion from an owl attack in Latta Park. The other reason he may have been attracted to Sarah was her pony tail and earbud strings.  The bouncing ponytail certainly looks like a bird to be had and the earbud cords resemble a snake.  Below is a video link to two juvenile barred owls attacking a garden hose which they think is a snake.

This is a wonderful video of a mom and dad barred owl and their fledgling. You can see how the baby does the head bob thing as they try and focus and see how the owls use their diaphragms to make their hoot. 

Now, go outside.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Cue Michael Jackson's "I'm Bad."

I can turn my head 270 degrees.

I wanted to move to a better spot so
I could blend in.

The crows and blackbirds have been merciless in their hounding on the baby barreds who could care less.  They know they are bad and stand their ground.  We hear mom and dad nearby but they do not interfere. The photo below was taken in a back yard. Usually, it is the crows that harass the owls, but this time it was a cacophony of song birds-cardinals, thrashers, mockingbirds, even chickadees all tweeting at this owl to vamoose. If you look closely, the foot on the left has the middle talon raised...
Go away, little thrasher. I want a mouse.

Monday, May 20, 2013


So cool that we can walk 20 yards and find 3 baby barred owls 
playing in the park.  This is the third night in a row that they have been at the east end of the park and if it was like last year, they will be hanging around for the next month or so. Barred owls usually have a cache of 1 to 3 eggs and this is the second time since we have known about the owls that Nellie had triplets. We assume it is Nellie but honestly, with so many owls that have encroached on her territory, it's hard to know. There appears to be another pair that dominate Hermitage Court. They appear to fight a lot and then make up so there is a lot of monkey hooting going on and cigarette butts litter the street. 

Our owls (who appear to be Nellie and a new mate) tend to hang out in Edgehill Park. The new male has an abbreviated hoot. We can only guess that he has something else going in his favor. 

To find the owls (best time is dusk), listen for the crows to make a ruckus or the cardinals or you can listen for the babies crying or the parents hooting back and forth-It's your turn to feed them. That last mouse was big enough for two turns, it's your turn.

Having watched them in the box, owls do have distinctive personalities. Two of these babies are bad asses.  They each went deliberately into a tree which was filled with cardinals aggressively tweeting (literally as it should mean) at them. They held their ground until they had had enough then moved on.
Does this sign make me look fierce?

He is stalking some cardinals.

This is mom. She is tired.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

I saw baby owls!!!!

I think from now on, I will just say what I observe and not speculate. As Atticus Finch says, "Delete the adjectives and you'll have the truth."

This afternoon, I heard crows over in Edgehill Park and was tired of weeding and love distraction, so I strolled over to check it out knowing that an owl was nearby. I saw both mom and a baby who had just escaped the crows. Mom was preening herself and also her baby. Adorable.  I then heard a ruckus above my head and glanced up to see another baby owl with a snake in its mouth flying away from two pestering crows. 

Look for them around Edgehill for the next month or so as they learn to be proficient in flying and hunting.  Listen for crows or for the babies crying for food. 

A few nights ago, we heard another owl territorial hootfest with at least 3 or 4 different owls. I've had neighbors tell me about seeing owls on Hermitage Court and Dartmouth Place.  There would appear to be at least two pair hanging around this area.  Not sure if the owl with the babies is Nellie but it would seem so.  Maybe she nested near the Duke Mansion this time. So much for not speculating...

I do have more photos which I will post later after I pay a little more attention to real life.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Nellie gets dinner.

Looking for a napkin.

If they get hot, their feathers fluff out a little.

Can you find Nellie?

If I close my eyes, you can't see me.

Nellie is waiting for another mouse.

Good to the last tail.

I am watching you.

Posterize filter

HD filter
Last week, I heard Nellie and her new mate hooting back and forth so I set up the camera, set up the mouse on the platform and called Nellie with Rob's whistle.  She came very quickly and I'm not sure if she saw the mouse or heard the whistle.  I still cannot verify that is it Nellie as her fur is still covering up the band but I don't think too many owls are this tame and put up with me being so close and taking photographs.  She stayed in the back yard for well over an hour. Part of the time staring at the platform and waiting for another mouse. The rest of the time she sat in the trees watching every movement and deciding whether it was prey she could catch.  We heard what we assume is her new mate last night around 11 and he has the strangest hoot.  He does the call but fizzles out at the end.  It's almost comical because it;s like, "Hoo-hoo-HOO-oooooooo yeah, whatever.

We still notice that Nellie is eating the mouse herself so we assume their are no babies. None have been reported and by now, you would hear them crying and see them learning to fly and hunt in Edgehill Park.

Great Horned Owl family in south Charlotte

In a county park in south Charlotte, there lives a great horned owl family. These photos were all taken in April and both babies have since left the nest. Eurasian eagle owls are the largest owls but great horned owls are second largest owls and are the only animal predators to barred owls.  Their wing span is about 5 feet (versus 4 for barred owls) and they are known as the bad ass owls and can be very aggressive.  It really is amazing that we have these creatures living in our area. Enjoy the photos.
Copyright Marsha Gaspari
Baby great horned owl-last day in the nest

First day out of the nest.

Do you know the OMG cat? This is the OMG owl.
Babies about 6 weeks old. So fluffy!

So ferocious yet adorable.

Notice the wing striations.

Although a baby, look at the talons.

Mom is alway nearby and often tired.

Mom standing guard over her babies.

Hunkered down in the nest.

Mom giving the stink eye.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fight in Owl Town and Nellie Trolling and Trilling

Got your attention?

Monday morning at 6:00 a.m. we heard two owls calling back and forth in our back yard. One flew off. They got back together in the vacant lot next door, continuing the discussion, then one took off again. The last place they went was to Edgehill Park where they sat across from each other. Nellie was giving this new mate quite a talking to (their throats puff out then they vocalize). I believe she was saying if you want a piece of this fine specimen, you need to be catching me some rodent. He then went off again in search of prey.  This lasted about an hour.

Last night we were privileged to hear and see a parliament of owls (which is what a group of owls is called-we seek to educate) fighting for this territory-further evidence that Ned is gone and Nellie is seeking a new mate and seeing if he would defend her honor.  It was around 12:30 a.m. when we heard two pairs of owls caterwauling. This is when they do the monkey hooting thing to the next extreme. Hopefully you can open the attached sound file. This went on for an hour.  They went from the vacant lot, to our house, to Edgehill, then down to Squirrel Park. Then they came back to our house. This audio was recorded in our front yard with one pair in the deodora cedar and the other in the pin oak tree.

One of the coolest things about barred owls is that they are the most vocal  and social (or in this case anti-social because this 'hood is not big enough for two pairs of owls) of all the owls.  They are extremely territorial and as you can hear, both the male and female defend their space.

If you go to and search for "paulyorke" he has this incredible camera set up for barred owls nesting which features a camera outside and inside. This clip features mom feeding the babies as well as giving them kisses. 

Below is a recording of the fight in owl town last night.

This is why I'm so mad that the owls did not nest in the box. Hopefully, next year although I do still check the box just in case they get a very late start.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

As the Owl Turns

This is becoming quite a soap opera.  Saturday night I heard hooting in our neighbor's back yard so I set up the boom box, got the mouse, camera and waited.  Nothing.  After I bang my head against the wall, at some point I will say, "Owww!"  I decided to set up the platform in the back yard where I knew the owl to be. Boom box. Mouse on platform. Go to get the camera and before I could even turn, the owl came and grabbed the mouse. I followed the owl around for about an hour (I know...I need a job.)  She just hung around moving the mouse from her beak to her feet like she was playing. After about 30 minutes, he went to a low, private branch and swallowed the mouse whole (only after enjoying the head by itself-she must have been watching how cats eat...)  It took her two tries as that was a well fed mouse.  I turned my head and she flew away and when I went looking for her, she was not 10 feet from me.  I can only think that it was Nellie because: this owl was very tame and put up with me taking photos (will post soon) and being so near for so long. Because I got so close, I did not see an antenna nor did I see any leg bands since her fur covered them. I did use the transmitter to see if it was Ned and got no response. This owl seemed to hear the whistle and come immediately for the mouse as if she had played this game before.  The only odd thing was that if this was a nesting owl, I would have thought that she would have taken the mouse and fed the babies (both male and female feed their young). That's part of the reason I watched for so long, hoping she would lead me to the nest.

Monday night, I heard both a male and female owl in the same place calling to each other. So, my best guess would be that Nellie is back and is searching for a new mate but that is it too late in the nesting season to have babies so is giving this year a miss.

As I am writing this at noon on Tuesday, I hear a female hooting.  I see her but by the time I got set up, she had flown away.  It was definitely a female because they have that lovely trill at the end of their call.

I have several reports from other neighbors of hearing lots of owls so that is good news.

Giving a hoot,
Update: for the last several days, I have heard lots of female hooting as well as more hooting btw. a male and female. Two neighbors report seeing two owls flying together.  Still best guess is Ned has gone to owl heaven and Nellie is trolling and may have found another mate but it's too late in the nesting season.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Still hope

Well, the good news is that we have seen and heard owls in the neighborhood.  On Hermitage Court, there is apparently some fraternizing going on based on the monkey type of hooting. Tonight, we heard two owls near our back yard.

I have the antenna and twice have gone out with my owl partner Walker to try and find Ned.  Remember Ned has a transmitter.  His frequency is 713 so we set the radio to that,put the antenna on the roof of the car, and off we go (there is also a hand held antenna that Walker has used to walk around Ned's usual hangouts).  If we come across Ned, the radio starts beeping.  Even if the transmitter is down (euphemism), the antenna can still detect it.  We have had no luck. Nor have I had any luck with the whistle and free mouse (both Ned and Nellie are trained to the whistle).

If one of the owls is gone, then the other one will find another mate quickly.  So it could be that they are out of their territory looking for a mate, and will simply start nesting later. If it gets to be more than another week or so, they will likely skip this year.

Fingers crossed.

UPDATE:I was just informed that another possibility of why we are not finding Ned is that the battery in his transmitter is dead.  It is two years old.  Dr. Rob is coming to Charlotte (now he is into ospreys, he can't let go of his barred owls) the second week in April to check up on his owls and do some banding and hopefully catch Ned to replace the battery.

So for you locals, keep looking up in the trees for nesting sites. Due to the time change, they are often out when it is still light and the male will have to feed the female if she is sitting on her eggs.  The next time we will have a chance to find them is going to be mid-April when they the fledglings owlets are out of the nest and crying for food.
The photo is of Hermione being banded in 2010.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

It's such a nice house...

I have tried for the last 8 days to call for Ned and Nellie with no luck. It really is so odd since they were like clockwork for 10 weeks and now nothing. I did see an owl in our back yard on Wednesday and we shared a couple of hoots.  It's really hard to tell who (no pun intended- well just a little) is who unless they are together.  When they hoot, the male has no trill at the end of the "Who cooks for you" while the female has that trill.

Jen came out and gave me the antenna and transmitter (Ned has his own frequency) so I will try and find Ned.  Nellie is likely sitting on the nest and it is his job to feed her since she has to keep the eggs warm. So if we find Ned, the nest could be nearby.

Another possibility I do NOT want to think about is the Nellie has gone to owl heaven.  Most city owls die when they are going after a mouse and a car hits them but the other way they can die is by people putting out rat poison (or even toxic yard chemicals) and mice or voles eating that and then the owls eat the mice.  She is banded so I would have hoped that someone would have reported it.  If Nellie is gone, then Ned will be looking for a mate so he may not be in the neighborhood around feeding time. It's almost too late now to nest so he may have to wait until next year.

Cool owl websites

Really good article about owls (barred owls are specifically mentioned) in
Tuesday's NY Times:

They talk about the Global Owl Project which is more of an academic pursuit
and has some good links.

I tried two times last week to entice Ned and Nellie with a mouse with no
luck. Best guess is that they have found plentiful food nearby and are just
not in hearing range. I will try again tomorrow (Monday) a little after 6.
They are very near nesting time and we check every day to see if Nellie has
taken her place.

Some of you may not know about Fum and Gebra-a real like Owl and Pussycat.
They are a very unusual pair and play together. Great videos

Monday, February 11, 2013

Video of Nellie grabbing a mouse

This is what happens on Sunday nights when we feed the owls. A big thank you to Christina Markey for videotaping Nellie grabbing the mouse. You will hear Dr. Bierregaard's recorded whistle that he used to train the owls to come to the mouse. At 26 seconds, Nellie appears on the willow oak tree and after Alina Bartlett moves her head, you will see Nellie grab the mouse and take it to a nearby magnolia to eat in peace. Note-not for the faint of heart...It is the circle of life and the mouse had a wonderful meal before hand.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Nellie checks out the box 3 times!

Nellie has checked out the nesting box 3 times now so we think the time is getting near for her to start sitting on eggs. We think it is Nellie rather then Ned coming into the box because this owl seems bigger, does not have an antenna transmitter, and perches and jumps in the box differently.  We are going to feed Nellie a mouse tonight just to further encourage her to choose the nesting site that Ned has recommended.  What's the big deal?  The really fun part comes when the babies come out of the box (probably in April) and we get to watch them learn to fly and hunt for food.  See above. Plus, when they are in the box, we get to see them grow and feed and play.  I will be posting videos soon and Ned and Nellie checking out their (hopefully) new home.

Friday, January 25, 2013

I will prepare a place for you.

The male barred owl does the house hunting. Ned first checked out the box on Dec. 29. [note:the camera is motion activated with a time and date stamp]. He came back on January 20 and spent about 5 minutes looking all around and then went inside to sit a spell to make sure it would be comfortable for Nellie.  He came back again on January 23rd and went in and out of the box twice-one time taking out a leaf. [NOTE: On Feb.2, Ned came back for a 4th time to check out the box. This time we were able to see his transmitter so we are certain it is him. ANOTHER NOTE: Ned came Sunday, Feb. 3rd at 7:00 a.m and spent about 2 minutes inside the box. About a half hour later, squirrels starting building another nest so we get to see how the trap door works.] I am very hopeful they will come back. They usually nest in hollowed out tree cavities (which is why Myers Park is ideal) but I am hoping a free mouse each week will be the deal breaker.
We have been feeding the owls a mouse every week for about 6 weeks now and we are pretty sure it is Nellie grabbing it. This last time, we played the whistle twice and she was there.  As soon as the mouse was put on the platform, she grabbed it before Mike could even turn his back. She is now waiting at dusk for the mouse so we need to cut back to every 10-14 days.  We don't want her to be dependent on free mice. Yesterday I was working in the yard and didn't realize she was there.  I walked by the platform and she came to sit in the tree above waiting for the mouse.  While it is adorable and cool as heck, I cannot oblige her.
Barred owls will not nest if there are squirrels in the box so we have had  the leaves cleaned out twice. At 30 feet in the air, it is a task. I have a big stick to bang the box if they start to build again. I've also put up some flashing to prevent raccoons for getting at the eggs. We did see a raccoon last year visit the box so we know they are around. Eggs generally get laid in late February/early March.  Nellie has usually been one of the early nesters.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ned checks out the nesting box!

In the owl world, the male does the house hunting.  This is Ned checking out our nesting box and deciding if it will be a suitable home to raise owlets. We hope that he comes to his senses.  The tree that they have nested in the last two years was partially cut down and eliminated their roof, so between that and getting a free mouse once a week, it's a very attractive abode.

The courting frenzy begins now and we should be hearing lots of hooting and hollering.  We will continue the weekly feedings that will usually be on Sunday night.  The next two Sunday nights are not good for us and if you want to know when the alternate day is, contact me. The time will normally be close to 5:30.  Nellie is starting to get a little nervous (as is her namesake) with all the people around so we may need to stand further back or in a different place.

Please drive slow around Edgehill Park and the surrounding areas.  When owls go after prey, they do not see cars coming, only the tasty treat they are after.