Sunday, February 10, 2013

Raptor Mania!

Yesterday (2/10), my mom and I went to Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in Ohio for a field trip put on by that state's young birders club.  It was incredible!  

On the drive there, I saw 19 Red-tailed Hawks, 1 Cooper's Hawk and 4 Rough-legged Hawks hunting or perched along the sides of the highway.  When we got out at a gas station in southernmost Michigan, a Peregrine Falcon flew over!  Just after we crossed into Ohio, we saw a Red-shouldered Hawk perched on a wooden post low to the ground.  All of this put me at 5 bird of prey species on the day even before the field trip began.   

When we did get there, the young birders piled into BSBO's bus for a drive around the farm fields.  Raptors were everywhere!  There were literally Northern Harriers in every field and Red-tailed Hawks on every woodland border.  There were also at least three American Kestrels around, perching on telephone wires and shrubs.  One of them, a male, was being mobbed by a flicker.  Dozens of harriers and redtails later, the bus parked in the lot at Owl Woods, the preserve's woodland that is famous as an owl magnet. 

Birders that were already there quickly helped us find a Barn Owl high up in a pine tree.  A lifer for me!  The only way to see it was to stand directly beneath it and crane your neck as far as you could, but it was well worth it–it was staring right back down at you, and absolutely beautiful.  We were also shown a Northern Saw-whet Owl not far away from there that was about two thirds up another pine tree.  It didn't take so much straining to see it, but it was blocked by a few small branches and was less clearly visible than the Barn Owl.  We were all delighted to see it anyway.  After everyone had seen both of the birds there, we drove to a location known to be hosting a roost of Long-eared Owls.  Across the road was an eagle nest with two eagles perched near it.   I had now seen 10 bird of prey species on the day.

We trekked out to the Long-eared Owl spot, and indeed, there were five of them roosting in the pine trees there.  Another lifer!  They were absolutely beautiful,  with their striking yellow eyes, long ear tufts, and warm brown mottled plumage.  They were smaller than I imagined they would be, but their presence and personalities were huge!

After that, we went on a  successful search for a staked-out Northern Shrike.  It was very active, flying from bush to bush and getting quite close a couple of times.   The hawthorn shrubs it favored had some mean looking thorns–perfect for a shrike.

Finally, as the sun was setting, we set out to search for Short-eared Owls.  On the way there we saw a flock of robins with a Northern Mockingbird mixed in as well as a flock of American Tree Sparrows that contained a single White-crowned Sparrow.  When we got there, we found at least seven Short-eared Owls flying in the air and perching in big dead trees.  When they flew they reminded me of bats, with their erratic flight, long wings, and flat, broad faces.

I ended the day with 13 bird of prey species:Cooper's, Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, and Rough-legged Hawk; Northern Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, American Kestrel, and Bald Eagle; Barn, Northern Saw-whet, Long-eared and Short-eared Owls; and Northern Shrike.  What an awesome total for the middle of the winter!  It was the best birding day that I'd had in a long while.

Northern Harrier in flight.

Bald Eagles.

Northern Saw-whet Owl.

1 of 5 Long-eared Owls.

1 of at least 7 Short-eared Owls.   In flight.

Barn Owl.

Northern Shrike.


  1. That's amazing on the Barn Owl. Nice photo of a very rare bird. Was it a staked out bird, or did they find it?

  2. Sounds like a great day. I am jealous with all the owls you saw. I love to see their big eyes.