To Spook an Owl

This morning, after hiking across a ridgetop meadow south of Columbia, I decided to return to my pickup along a valley trail which cuts through a creekside woodland.  Soon after entering that grove of trees, I startled a large raptor that flew further into the woods; its bulky frame and silent flight indicated that it was an owl.

Sure enough, as I rounded the next curve, I found myself staring into the dark eyes of an adult barred owl, perched above the trail.  After tolerating my presence for a minute or so, he flew deeper into the trees and I continued my hike, glad to have encountered that night hunter in the light of day.

Of course, it is not unusual to observe barred owls during the day, especially in early to mid spring when their breeding season is underway; indeed, their questioning call is often heard in March and April, day or night.  Best observed in riparian forest or wooded marshlands, barred owls are nocturnal hunters, feasting primarily on mice but also consuming songbirds and frogs.  Once associated with southern swamps, these magnificent raptors have gradually expanded their range to the north and west and are now found throughout the eastern half of the U.S., southern Canada and the Pacific Northwest.