Two Cities, Two Owls

Great horned owls are the nocturnal avian predators along the Colorado Front Range, feasting on prey as large as skunks, geese and raccoons.  Not often heard during the warmer months of the year, their gruff hoots begin to echo across our Littleton farm by mid November, continuing through their mid winter breeding season and trailing off by early spring.  Utilizing abandoned hawk or magpie nests (or drum nests placed by humans), these powerful raptors are perhaps best observed in late winter, when mom and her downy youngsters stare down from their roost in a cottonwood grove.

In Columbia, Missouri, our neighborhood is amidst a network of wooded stream valleys and barred owls are far more common than their larger cousins; delivered throughout the seasons, their mellow, questioning calls may be heard day or night.  Barred owls lack the "ear tufts" of great horned owls, have dark eyes and often tolerate close approach, peering down from a trailside tree as hikers pass below.  Their diet, consisting primarily of mice, voles and rabbits, may also include reptiles, amphibians and songbirds; tree cavities are generally used for nesting and, in my experience, mother and young are far less conspicuous than the families of great horned owls.

In either of my home towns, I relish the sight and sound of owls, a natural highlight of the fall and winter months.  Hardy yet mysterious, these efficient hunters rule the night, the hours when we humans are ill equipped to function; it is perhaps that sense of inadequacy that fuels our admiration for these nocturnal raptors.