All About Owls

By Michael Hill

You can hear the birds chirping at the Tenafly Nature Center as they migrate home to nest and raise families for the season.

If one fledgling learning to fly falls from the nest, the center’s education director says keep your cat or dog or other predators away.

“One thing to note is that the parent birds are always watching the fledgling and if they see something come near their young one they’ll try to protect it,” said Debora Davidson.

Just like the birds, the owls are migrating this time of year. And positioning themselves to plop down on their prey.

“Their feathers have a fringe on the end and they’re very soft and velvety which allows the air to pass over silently which enables them to be able to sneak up on their prey whether it’s a mouse, mole or even an insect,” Davidson said. “Owls’ ears, which you don’t really see because they don’t stick out like ours, they don’t have little skin flaps, they are holes on the outside of their head and many owls will have a hole that’s a little bit raised and another hole that’s a little bit lower so that when they’re flying and they hear that sound they can help triangulate where that sound is coming from. They’re not just telling if it’s right or left, but if it’s up or down.”

Even though owls are typically smaller than the bald eagle, this one sits in an eagle’s nest and waits. The eagle shoves the owl but the owl comes right back in a flash.

Jill Bennetta of Flat Rock Brook Nature Center in Englewood says a 2-year-old great horned owl is awfully docile.

“She’s what we call an imprint. She does not act like a normal owl. She wants to be around humans,” Bennetta said.

She either fell from the nest, was pushed or was taken.

“The rehabilitation center that we got her from got a call from a woman who said I’m trying to get out of my house and I haven’t been able to leave for three days because I have an owl trying to get in. That’s not normal behavior so the rehabilitation center relocated her. She flew back to the woman’s house, they came back and relocated her to a different place, she flew back to the woman’s house and they said something is off. So she will be with us for the rest of her life and that can be 30 plus years,” Bennetta said.

This owl typically is considered a tiger of the sky, one of nature’s fiercest, swimming to capture fish and targeting even snakes and skunks.

Davidson says the owl comes in about 200 different species in the world — eight in New Jersey. She reminds us they’re wild animals and no one should try to make an owl a pet.

Watch the episode of PBS NATURE’s “Owl Power” for more information about owls.