I wanna be symbiotic-er
March 20, 2013 9:35 PM   Subscribe

I live near a medium-sized nature preserve, it has been a long hard winter with no end in sight. While lying in the dark waiting to fall asleep, I've been listening to an owl for several years* and he's never been this close for this long. I suspect he's venturing further to find food, it's probably a really lean time. Help me help him.

* Look, just give me this. It *sounds* like the same owl. I've never seem him. We're going with it, ok?

He's been my nighttime friend for several years now. He's off in the direction of the preserve, sometimes faintly to the north end near the river and sometimes a bit closer by the fields. He's been very loud recently, he's close.

It's been a long nasty winter with a few more weeks of it in sight. It's pretty awful out there, I'm sure he's hungry. He's been a faithful, interesting companion for years and I'd like to help him out if I could. I'd like to hear about getting more involved with helping these guys in general at the same time, but I'm really interested in concrete actions I can take here and now. I've got a medium sized fenced in back yard with a number of mature trees. I've got $100 I can scratch out of the budget. I need ideas.
posted by unixrat to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I live in outstate Minnesota, USA. The temperature was in the teens all day with a low around zero. The forecast is for more of the same.

I don't know what kind of owl this is.
posted by unixrat at 9:38 PM on March 20, 2013

If you hear him calling, he's doing it to mate, not hunt. Hunters don't normally announce themselves loudly to their prey.

If you're intent on feeding this guy, here's a list of prey. There's not anything you could set out that they'd be interested. I'd try setting up squirrel and bird feeders in my yard. And spread some seed on the ground, that should attract mice and rodents.

Chances are that if the owl is hungry then so is everything else. Attract rodents, squirrels, and small birds to your yard that the owl might be thankful.
posted by sbutler at 9:45 PM on March 20, 2013 [8 favorites]

What sbutler said. Feeding a wild bird of prey will be a non-trivial task, but creating an environment that will support prey animals isn't too hard. Setting up feeders and maybe some sort of brush pile habitat for rabbits and the like.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:23 PM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Kind of hard to feed him unless you can attract voles, mice, and other small prey animals.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 12:14 AM on March 21, 2013

It'd be neat if you could put up a little house for him.

I just looked at some 'owl house' images on google.

It gets cold here too and I like to help birds.


October before last, it was a full moon, and fairly warm. Near Halloween as I recall..

A most memorable moon, it was low and great big.

I walk with a couple of dogs and a cat sometimes.

Anyway, I've noticed an owl shadows us sometimes.

As I looked up that night he flew across the moon.


And the pasture descends, bisected by a fence row.

And often my dogs will dig for voles and mice in the fence row.

It reminds me of that Farley Mowat film.


I hope you go with it. You could have your own little owl family.
posted by sirlikeitalot at 3:10 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Agreed. He might have moved closer because the hunting is much better near you; not because he's desperate. An owl with insufficient food won't have the energy to guard his territory with calls, nor to look for a mate (and a female owl likely won't go into estrus when starving).
posted by IAmBroom at 3:14 AM on March 21, 2013

First off, I agree wholeheartedly, 100% with the people who suggested making conditions better for the owl's natural food.

That having been said, it's pretty easy to get prekilled, frozen mice; almost all pet stores carry these for reptile owners. I think it's a far better idea to attract his preexisting diet, though. You really don't want a large predatory bird dependent on you putting out little mousesicles throughout winter, and you would probably attract scavengers and less desirable predators before you attracted the owl.
posted by Nyx at 8:40 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

During my mom's gig as clerical worker for a raptor rehabilitation center, she used to complain about all the thawing rodent carcasses next to the human lunches in the fridge.

Her latest tweet says "I think there's been a misunderstanding of the term 'bird feeder'", and shows a hungry-looking owl perched on top of hers.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:48 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

The very best thing you can do is what others have suggested - make that backyard into as much of a wildlife habitat as you can without losing the ability to enjoy for yourself. Hiding spots with flat spaces to run between, some kind of moving water, strewn seeds in addition to things that drop seeds, plants that are attractive food or attractive to the food of smaller critters, and safe places to roost out of sight or nest in the warmth are all helpful.

Owls hunt movement, so frozen critters probably won't be too attractive to them. Bringing in supplies of live critters they're likely to hunt could unbalance things for the existing critters and lead to new issues of control and supply.

If you know what type of owl it is, look up the type of nest they prefer and provide materials or an actual structure (some like to build their own, some like to take over existing spots). If they're the kind that line their nesting area with soft stuff, it's great to provide stuff like combed out hair/fur, straggles of wool and cotton, and other bits of warm fluffiness. Even if the owl doesn't use it, the other nesting critters (mice, small birds) will, and helping them thrive will keep your owl(s) well fed.
posted by batmonkey at 10:02 AM on March 21, 2013

Just a side note about what kind of owl it is - it is pretty easy to tell them apart by their sounds. If it's a Great Horned Owl, it'll sound like a typical 'hoot' sound. If it sounds more like the phrase 'who cooks for you', then it's a Barred Owl. Barn Owls are big and white and they screech rather than hoot so you probably don't have one of those.

Those are the big owls but there a couple smaller owls it could be. The Cornell Bird Lab has sound recordings of all of them so you can figure out what your friend is.

Another neat thing about owls is they breed really early in the season so not only may your friend not be starving (after all, owls are well adapted for winter - they stick around all year and don't fly south like many other birds, and many range well north of Minnesota), but he/she may have eggs or even chicks!
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:35 PM on March 21, 2013

There may be a wildlife or nature center in your area. Ask them for help identifying your owl, and ask what you can do. I wonder if clearing the snow from an area, and leaving some stale bread to attract mice would help, but I think I'd rather trust real experts.
posted by theora55 at 3:40 PM on March 21, 2013

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