An Owl's Life
Owls are predators–they catch, kill and eat other animals in order to survive. This predation is neither cruel nor wasteful and has been going on for millions of years. It seldom upsets anything except perhaps a few people. An owl killing and eating another animal is no different from a robin eating a worm or a gull eating a fish. Although some owl species are diurnal (active by day), most owls hunt at night and are seldom observed by humans. Because of this nocturnal (nighttime) existence, they are little known and often misunderstood, even though some owls live their entire lives in close proximity to man.
Hunting at night, owls use their extraordinary vision and excellent hearing to locate their prey. Special adaptations such as wide wings, lightweight bodies and unusually soft, fluffy feathers allow them to fly silently. Owls seize their prey, usually a rodent or other small mammal, and kill it with their powerful feet. If the prey is small enough, it is swallowed whole; otherwise the food is torn apart by the owl's strong, hooked beak. The owl's digestive system assimilates the nutritious portions of the prey; the undigested parts (hair, bones, claws, teeth, etc.) are regurgitated in the form of pellets. These pellets, found at roosting sites, can be examined to determine the owl's diet.
There are eighteen species of owls in North America; eight of these can be found in our area. Some species, like the Screech Owl and Great-horned Owl, live here year-round; others, like the Snowy Owl and the Saw-whet Owl, are winter visitors.
Even though we live in a part of the country that is densely inhabited, most of our native owl populations appear stable. There have been some adverse effects on certain species due mainly to habitat loss and other environmental factors. The Barred Owl, for example, a year-round dweller in swamps and deep woods, is on the Threatened Species list in New Jersey because of diminishing habitat. All owls are protected by state and federal regulations. It is illegal to kill or capture an owl; it is also illegal to possess an owl, living or dead, without the proper permits from both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of New Jersey.
Owls pose no threat to humans, although adult birds will defend their territory and their young against any intruders, human or otherwise. Unfortunately, superstitions and untruths about owls still persist which have subjected this group of birds to unwarranted suspicion and persecution. We hope, with knowledge and understanding of the owl's true character, these fears and misgivings will be replaced by tolerance and respect for these unique birds.
Next: Barn Owls