Down­town barred owl sight­ings soar­ing

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - LARRY PYNN lpynn@postmedia.com

A ver­i­ta­ble barred owl in­va­sion is un­der­way. More than 150 of the rap­tors have been brought dead or in­jured to a lo­cal wildlife re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion fa­cil­ity, in ad­di­tion to nu­mer­ous sight­ings in down­town Van­cou­ver.

A jog­ger even re­ported be­ing dive-bombed by one near English Bay.

“The bird took a swoop and hit him in the nog­gin,” Rob Hope, rap­tor care man­ager at OWL rehab in South Delta, said Thurs­day. “It was a case of mis­taken food, or some­thing star­tled the bird to hit him.”

OWL has re­ceived 156 barred owls this year: 80 died, 51 were re­leased back to the wild, and 25 re­main in care. Most are young owls born ear­lier this year and now strik­ing out on their own for food and habi­tat. Injuries typ­i­cally oc­cur dur­ing col­li­sions with cars and win­dows, but some also eat rats that have been poi­soned.

“We started see­ing a spike in Septem­ber, more and more barred owls com­ing in,” Hope said.

“At this time of the year, they’re def­i­nitely the most com­mon owl.”

This year’s un­usu­ally high num­bers may re­flect an ex­cel­lent sur­vival rate on nest­ing grounds, he added. OWL has re­ceived about 15 re­ports of barred owls in down­town Van­cou­ver in the last few weeks.

“Owls sit­ting low in the trees and (peo­ple) tak­ing pho­to­graphs of them,” Hope said.

On Tues­day, Postmedia News pub­lished a photo of a barred owl and its prey in broad day­light out­side the Ben­tall IV build­ing.

It was thought to be eat­ing a pi­geon, but it turned out to be a rat.

Since then, an­other photo of a barred owl has sur­faced — this one taken weeks ear­lier while the rap­tor perched at the Bur­rard Street SkyTrain sta­tion. It’s im­pos­si­ble to know for sure whether the same owl has set­tled in for the longer term, or how many owls in to­tal are re­spon­si­ble for the pub­lic calls to OWL.

Pho­tog­ra­pher/nat­u­ral­ist Marylee Stephen­son of North Van­cou­ver said she pho­tographed a barred owl at about 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 16 at Bur­rard SkyTrain sta­tion.

“It was im­per­turbable, lots of peo­ple no­ticed it and stood there tak­ing iPhone pic­tures,” she said. “A lovely moment for us all. No idea how long it stayed.”

Barred owls have been ex­pand­ing their range in west­ern North Amer­ica. They are so suc­cess­ful that they have been shot in of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment pro­grams in B.C. and the U.S. Pa­cific North­west to limit com­pe­ti­tion for the en­dan­gered north­ern spot­ted owl. Barred owls are big­ger, more ag­gres­sive and have a more var­ied diet — and can suc­cess­fully mate with spot­ted owls.

Robin Bown, a bi­ol­o­gist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, said young spot­ted owls move widely dur­ing their first one to three years in search of a ter­ri­tory. Ra­dioteleme­try stud­ies show they set­tle for pe­ri­ods of a few weeks to months be­fore mov­ing on.

“If there is am­ple food — and rats are just the right size for these birds — it may stay around for at least a lit­tle while.”

The barred owl call is eas­ily dis­tin­guished, sound­ing like “Who cooks for you?”

Lis­ten for your­self: audubon. org/field-guide/bird/barred-owl.

MARYLEE STEPHEN­SON

A barred owl was spot­ted re­cently just out­side the Bur­rard SkyTrain sta­tion, one of about 15 such sight­ings recorded down­town over the last few weeks by the South Delta-based OWL rehab cen­tre.

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