Downtown barred owl sightings soaring
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.
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.