Owls In The Garden: From City To Country Wildlife

By Bonnie Grant | September 1, 2020
Image by M-Reinhardt
by Bonnie Grant
September 1, 2020

I’m a city girl living in the country. Before I moved to our new property, the only wild animals we seen were raccoons and birds. Boy have things changed!

From City to Country Wildlife

It is not unusual to look out the front windows at dusk and see a deer or two, or even a random pheasant. Coyotes carol their songs just a few blocks away in the fields. There are wild birds that I have never seen, including raptors. This is where things get interesting.

Big city life doesn’t leave a lot of room for wild animals. Sure, we had the pesky raccoons and the occasional possum, but for the most part the city is reserved for domestic animals. Here in the sticks, we have abundant wildlife. Turkeys roam the streets and little foxes sometimes trespass. We also have the domesticated variety in the form of a posse of wild cats.

One neighbor even keeps a bunch of laying hens, to which she coos in the morning as if they were her babies. Another neighbor mail ordered duck eggs and now has a brood of ducklings following her around the garden.

Birds of Prey in Gardens

It is to the chickens we must return. They are great layers and our neighbor often gifts us with fresh, golden yoked eggs. The chickens are always ushered into their enclosure in the evening, which is covered by tarp and a wire fence. They even have a heat lamp for cold nights. There they roost until morning, when they are let out to fertilize her veggie garden and eat up bad insects.

Her home is surrounded by huge trees, which makes for great owl habitat. We had heard an owl for several weeks, hooting from its hideaway. The sound was soothing and surprising, but also slightly scary, as we have cats that are allowed out until dark. Since we hadn’t yet seen the owl and didn’t know how big it was, we started bringing them in earlier. The hooting persisted every night, but we assumed it was just hunting mice, voles, rats, etc. It never occurred to us it might like bigger prey.

We got the bird book out and consulted the possible candidates that live in our region. Wild birds of prey like owls are found throughout our state, but each has a slightly different range. Considering the type of owl habitat found here, we were able to narrow it down. A burrowing owl, barred owl, barn owl, and great horned owl were possible suspects. Any of these wild birds could potentially live in our mostly treeless crop region.

A few weeks later we were sitting outside on a nice early evening. The kitties were in, so the owl’s calls didn’t alarm us. Then a great disturbance with much clucking and cackling occurred in the chicken enclosure. We quickly grabbed flashlights to investigate. What we saw was a wonder. It was a barn owl with its gleaming white face stark against the darkness. This is considered to be a medium sized owl, but it had managed to take out a chicken (I didn’t say this story had a happy ending). The chicken almost dwarfed the owl. Our presence panicked the wild bird, which tried to get out of the enclosure and failed. We propped open the door and eventually the bird flew away but without its prize.

Two nights later a similar ruckus ensued. Yep, you guessed it. It was the beautiful owl who gazed at us in surprise as it clutched its chicken. We finally got it out of the enclosure and then set to finding out how it had gotten in. With some wire and a few adjustments, the coop was sealed.

We still hear the owl, but it hasn’t gotten into the coop again. My neighbor replaced the chickens, and all is peaceful again. Except on clear, slightly cool nights. Then you can hear the gentle, questioning hoot of a barn owl.

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