Long-eared Owls are now singing and vocalizing in western Addison County.
Last night Ron Payne and I searched two locations, and at one located
three Long-eared Owls as well as a Short-eared Owl, a Northern Saw-whet
Owl, and a Great Horned Owl. We were able to record (check out
iNaturalist for some recordings) for the Long-eared Owls alert calls,
excitement calls, and hoot songs, as well as the calls of the
Short-eared. The hoot songs of the Long-eareds were sometimes
counter-sung and sometime overlapping, and were at different pitches
identifying different birds. We saw at least two, and maybe all three
of the Long-eareds, and the Short-eared (there may have been two).
The location was representative of good habitat for Long-eared Owls in
Addison County. The birds were in, and flying from and to, a mature
thicket stand of red cedars (juniper) adjacent to extensive open
fields. Most of our listening and viewing was from the field 100-200
feet from the edge of the trees.
We typically search for Long-eareds from just after sunset, and also
later in the night. Last night sunset was at 5:25pm, and the end of
(Civil) twilight was 5:55pm. Our first encounter was a bird that
acknowledged our presence at 5:36 with numerous repeats of a single
alarm call as it made circles over the thicket. We both had fleeting
glimpses of that individual.
At 5:48pm a single Long-eared began a characteristic, soft, hoot song
from the thicket. That it was only 7 minutes from the end of Civil
Twilight was quite typical and expected. From then until 6:35pm (when
we left the viewing/listening site) we heard various combinations of
excitement and hoot songs from three different individual Long-eareds.
They moved around during that time. At one point two of the Long-eareds
were flying low back and forth in front of us (well below tree height),
between us and the edge of the thicket stand of cedars. We also heard
the other three owl species during this time. The actions and
vocalizations were suggestive of a nesting site, and the thicket is
mature and tall enough to fit that possibility.
Unless you are well experienced with the variety of calls and alternate
songs of each owl species, it is very difficult to separate some of the
calls of Long-eared Owls from calls of Northern Saw-whet Owls.
Sometimes only careful reading of sonograms made from on-site recordings
is the only sure way to know. There are also some "conversational"
simple calls that are very similar sounding among several species of
owls. The best way to verify a Long-eared Owl by sound is with the
slow-paced hoot song. They also make mechanical sounds, notably bill
snaps and wing claps. We did not hear either of these last night.
In the last 10 days at two other locations we also heard Long-eareds
singing hoot songs for extended durations, at times which were well into
the dark of night.
You can read much more about the Long-eareds of western Addison County
and how to find them in this report of our 2016 discovery of their
habitat of preference in this area.
Please note the "Precautions" section of the article. We know very
little about these birds in Vermont and we believe they should be given
every protection of privacy that we can.
If you go to eBird Species Maps and search for Long-eared Owls for the
period 2016-2018 you will get a good idea where they have been found in
the western Addison County area. Only a couple of the markers on that
map are exactly where the observations were made. For the safety of the
birds and the species, the markers are put in generalized locations.
There are many other locations with seemingly good habitat to be searched.
If you then look at the map for all years, you will find other records.
Since there is an owl banding station at the north end of Snake
Mountain, you will find many of its mist-netted birds mapped at
scattered locations on or near Snake Mountain. The actual location for
those scattered map pins is just one place near Route 17 at the north
end of the mountain.
At least two of the locations that we have found for Long-eared Owls
this year have a strong possibility of being nesting sites. If you
locate hooting Long-eareds in the next few weeks, you may also have
discovered a possible nest site. It is our practice, and strongly
encourage others to do the same, to not map those sites until after the
4th of July. Furthermore, we strongly encourage not returning to the
locations where you discovered the species, at least not until next year.
We hope others will seek out new locations for this enigmatic species,
so that we can better understand their status in Vermont and guide us
further on how to protect them.
Good owling all!
Ian and Ron