A Trip to Estero Americano, Part One, Owls

Last Saturday I volunteered at the Laguna Foundation’s presentation by the Hungry Owl Project, “Owls Rule the Night” and it whetted my appetite to visit a pair of Barn Owls who nest in the Hanging Gardens on Estero Americano.

I visited them today. Some internet sources will tell you that Barn Owls are strictly nocturnal, I had a hunch that that ain’t so. Get an early enough start, and there’s a good chance of seeing one.

Before 8:00 I had paddled out to their cave in the cliff. Sure enough, one of them was up in his (I’ll call it a he, but I’m not sure of that) looking out at the world.

Chez Barn Owl, EA 7:11:16

Look, the owl is up there.

Zooming in, he looks like he’s been out all night and has just finished his day’s-ending meal—supper for him—and ready to snooze the day away.

Dozing Owl 7:11:16

Barn Owls like to live in cavities. They line their cavity homes with torn-apart owl pellets, which are the regurgitated balls fur and bones of their prey, mostly small rodents which they usually swallow whole.

It’s fun to pick apart an owl pellet should you ever come across one. They’re little balls of fur about the size of a ping pong ball. As you pull apart the fur, little rodent bones are revealed.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, females are more colorful than the males, so this one is probably the female of the pair.

Barn Owl, Leggy 7:11:16

How do you like those legs? All the better to catch mice in long grass at night!

The two of them flew out of their nest cavity and watched me from perches on the cliff.

Barn Owl on Cliff 7:11:16

Barn Owls are small and light birds with a lot of wing area and a light weight body. Light wing loading along with special soft-edged feathers make for buoyant, nearly silent flight. As they flew nearby I listened to see if I could hear their wing beats—to no avail. (Many other birds make quite a lot of noise as they fly. Hummingbirds are famous for that!)

Here’s a video by the BBC that shows Barn Owls flying over sensitive microphones, and making almost no sound at all.

In this video by the Barn Owl Trust they make the point that Barn Owls are an indicator species, meaning that the presence of Barn Owls indicates the overall health of the ecosystem.

Another encouraging sign of the health of the Estero is the fact that it’s got a lot of fish in it this year. That’s the subject of a future post.


2 thoughts on “A Trip to Estero Americano, Part One, Owls

  1. Beautiful shots . . . we love the Hungry Owl Project . . . they helped us with the several owl species on our Freestone Ranch property. I so miss hearing the calls as they headed out at dusk . . .

  2. Thanks, Darris. The owls have been at EA for quite some time. It’s very encouraging to see so much life is this estuary. Efforts to improve the quality of its ecosystem seem to be paying off.

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