USDA airport biologist Bobby Hromack holds his first captured short-eared owl. Although it weighs no more than 16.8 ounces, the species can pose an aviation safety hazard due to its 33-43 inch wingspan and low, rolling flight style.
Seeing a short-eared owl in November on the Pittsburgh International Airport, where I work as an airport wildlife biologist, was a unique occasion. However, as the number of owls grew to eight, I recognized the challenge ahead: Like all birds of prey, short-eared owls are a recognized potential aviation hazard. Their low rolling flight and difficult-to-disperse reputation means they pose an aviation safety threat. From 1990-2012, short-eared owl strikes with aircraft in the United States caused over $1 million in damage, and often are fatal to the birds. Convincing them to leave would be difficult but important.
The task would be harder because short-eared owls are listed by the State as an endangered species. Common in many areas globally, Pennsylvania is the southernmost edge of their breeding range. These owls likely migrated from Canadian breeding grounds to winter in Pennsylvania. Read more »
The birds were weak and dehydrated when Williams first received them from the Forest Service on June 20. But under her care, Puff and Fluff tripled in weight, enjoying a steady diet of mice, day-old chicks and crickets. They grew strong and healthy and soon began showing signs that they were ready for release into the wild. According to Williams, the owls were tearing their own food, eating a whole mouse in one gulp, catching crickets, flying easily, finding hiding places in their enclosure during the day, and showing appropriate defensive actions towards humans, such as beak-clacking and hissing. Read more »
Nick Gauthier, a firefighter with Stanislaus National Forest Engine 12, holds two baby owls that fell out of a tree during the Carstens Fire on the Sierra National Forest. (U.S. Forest Service photo)
As the flames from the recent Carstens Fire in the Sierra National Forest approached, two baby Western screech owls huddled abandoned in a nest.
Then, without warning, the tree that was their home came crashing down to the ground. Firefighters working to contain the quickly-spreading fire had cut down the tree to build a fire control line. Too young to fly, the baby owls tumbled to the ground and onto a roadway. Read more »