We had some real excitement on October 29 during our walk at Col Sam Smith Park. Several people had a good view of an owl “with ears” and the above photograph was taken of it. This is a big event because in ten years of leading these walks, owls have been seen only five or six times.
Unfortunately, I had but a distant view of it as it flew so was very interested in receiving this photo of it the next day.
It is a good photo, but is lacking a key component: a good look at the head and “ears.”
There are three owl species which can be said to have “ears.” The Great Horned Owl, the Short-eared Owl and the Long-eared Owl. These are not really ears at all, but serve the purpose of helping the owls to blend in with their perched environments and to make the owls look larger than they really are to other owls.
But how to decide which of the three eared species, our Col Sam Smith owl belonged to?
I carefully studied various internet photos of the three species and had a good look at the wonderful drawings in “The Sibley Guide to the Birds.” The correct identification was still not clear to me.
Next, I remembered a friend is an absolute wizard at 1,000 piece puzzles. (Nothing but Ravensburger please!) Doing puzzles requires an expert eye in distinguishing subtle variations in shape, colour and shade. My friend had a close look at the photo, then a close look at Sibley’s drawings and quickly assured me that this could be nothing apart from a Long-eared Owl.
Long-eared owls are found in the forested areas of both the Old World and America. In Ontario, they are most frequently found in fall and winter, where they roost together in dense conifers. They nest here in spring, often taking over old crow’s nests.