Horned owls have season to hoot
Days have been calm and fair in the county, but a mournful call echoing through the leafless trees is a reminder that winter is coming.
Who’s there? Probably a great horned owl, according to noted Kansas birding experts.
Longtime birder and K-State extension agent Chuck Otte said the elusive owls are far more common than people realize, especially in small towns like those in Marion County.
“This is the time of year for the earliest birds,’ he said. “It is not uncommon for them to have eggs in January and February. They get an early start. Right now, they are pairing off.”
The hoots of male owls are more audible this time of year, because they are defending their territory.
“The main way they do that is by calling,” he said. “The one who yells the loudest winds.”
Their ‘hoo-hoo’ call of a great horned is notoriously spooky, but the great owls have other vocalizations they deploy to make their point.
“The other thing they will do is make a really high screech that sounds like something being ripped apart by the muscles,” he said. “I was out a 4 a.m. doing an owl survey when I did not realize I was 15 feet below one.
“In five seconds he screeched and I nearly jumped out of my skin.”
The raptors will sit on structures like large signs to perch but prefer to take over the nests of hawks and other fowl, he said.
Tom Ewert, a lifetime birder with ties to Hillsboro, said the great owls are numerous in the county this time of year, but he does not have exact numbers.
The raptors are top predators that can take down anything up to their size.
Owners of smaller animals probably should bring them in at night.
“They can take a full-grown cat, raccoons, possums, whatever they can find,” he said.