Fascinating owls bewitch us on Halloween
With Halloween just days away, perhaps we can't help but think of owls this time of year, but ornithologists and naturalists focus on owls in the fall and winter because of their unique habits.
Elissa Landre, sanctuary director of Mass Audubon's Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary in Natick, Mass., recently answered some questions about this mysterious group of birds.
Q: What makes owls different than other birds?
A: What's particularly unique and interesting to humans is they court and breed in winter. That's part of the attraction. And they are nocturnal.
Q: How important are owls?
A: They are raptors. They eat other animals. Because they are nocturnal, they help (control) the population of nocturnal rodents, small animals they can pick up at night.
Q: You don't see them often. Are they shy?
A: It is because they're nocturnal. We hear them more than see them because it's dark. They're not necessarily shy. They can see you but you can't see them. They have great hearing and that is is how they find their prey.
Sometimes you'll see an owl during the day; it will be roosting, sleeping. A crow may fly near, then they do mobbing (when several crows start cawing loudly). If you hear a bunch of crows calling, follow the call -- you may see something. (Their calling is) to scare away the raptor, typically owls and hawks. That's a good way to see an owl during the day; follow the call.
By November, December (owls) are starting to court. Males and females may start to call to each other, they're much more active. December through February is when you're most likely to see them.
Q: Why are owls associated with Halloween?
A: I think because their calls are strange to humans, and because they're out at night. They seem mysterious to (us). You can imagine (early man) sitting around the fire way back, in caves and such. Hearing these sounds, you might think they are spirits. I imagine the mythology goes way back.