Owls in Tofino - Who Gives a Hoot?
by George Bradd, Tofino
Birders who have not birded themselves to exhaustion during the daylight
hours may want to keep birding all night long. Anyone interested in
birding in a “Big Day”, (24 hour), birding competition
has to start at midnight. Here is a few tips for owling on your Big
The Tofino area has recorded 9 species of owls. Although no owl species
are common in our area you can find them if you put out some effort.
1. You must generally go out at night for some particular owl species.
Owls like the Great Horned, Screech Owl, Barn Owl and Barred Owl
are best found at night. Try to be where you want to find the owls
it is still light if possible, then you know your way out.
2. Some owls particularly the Northern Pygmy Owl will be seen also
during the day. Pygmy Owls are what some people call “diurnal” which
is just a fancy word that means they are active day and night. Pygmy
Owls are quite bold and eat small birds. They often seem unafraid of
people, I have on occasion had them land on my head while calling them.
One day at my sunflower feeder the chickadees suddenly scattered as
a Pygmy Owl dove in from the woods. One chickadee flew frantically
into my bathroom window and fell stunned to the forest floor. The chickadee
woke up and hopped up on a branch like it was ready to go. Swooping
in less than 6 feet away from me the little owl grabbed the chickadee
and flew off with it. In fall they will perch on a dead snag and sometime
call their loud single toot for hours.
They hunt in wooded areas nesting in the mountains during breeding
season and visiting the outer coast in the winter. Most bird guides
know that small birds like to “mob” Pygmy Owls so a good
Pygmy Owl imitation is an asset because you can attract small birds
in flocks to attack the owl. Because birds like to flock together,
a Pygmy Owl call will “build” a flock for you as other
birds come to investigate the commotion. I once used a stuffed Pygmy
Owl on a stick to test the reaction of small birds in Stanley Park
as part of a research project. The stuffed owl on the stick attracted
mobs of small birds and a few curious looks from passerbys.
The Snowy Owl hunts during day in open areas, in the month of November
2003 a weak Snowy Owl was found on a Tofino beach, having been seen
flying around the inlet previous days. He was likely gradually starving
from lack of food due to rainy weather preventing him from hunting
mice.The Snowy Owl is a large owl that perches on the ground. They
only migrate far enough south to hit Tofino every few years, their
normal home is the tundra far north of here.
Another day tripper of open terrain is the Short-eared Owl, who like
fields and marshy areas. The Short-eared sometimes travels in groups
while migrating. They frequent the same habitat as Marsh Hawks, and
the owls low swooping flight probably spooks mice into running making
them visible prey.
3. Owls are usually more vocal on full moons, and
if you can see at all during night hours, the full moon is best for
us. We can also sometimes
walk around best without our flashlights on full moons so we don’t
scare the owls.The moon doesn’t have to be full, but more moon
is usually better.
4. Don’t be noisy. Remember the human voice, (particularly low
tones you macho guys), carries a long distance and scares owls. The
quieter you are the more you will hear and see.
5. Don’t shine your lights directly at the owls. This will scare
them and they will leave, and unless you are really lucky your “owling” is
probably over. In New Zealand it is illegal to shine “torches” directly
at Kiwiis. In Canada we have no such laws for owls but common sense
and courtesy suggests that it would be better for owls to leave them
undisturbed. You will still get a great look if you shine your beam
to the side of the bird, not right in its face.
6. IF you are using cassette tapes and playback megaphones to attract
owls, turn off your tape as soon as the owl calls and don’t hammer
it over and over again with the sound recordings. Bird cassette tapes
disturb birds, and if used frequently on owls or any bird species,
may cause the birds to abandon their territory.
Professional bird guides often use tapes to call birds. It is very
controversial. Some countries train rangers at university to use them.
It is illegal in some states in the us and some of the lodges which
cater to birders prohibit use of tapes by guides. Arizona has banned
tapes to protect their Whiskered Screech Owl. Many birders won’t
hire guides who use tapes and feel that tapes are somehow “cheating” to
find furtive bird species. The pressure on a guide to produce bird
species can be intense.
Before you go out you can listen to owl calls on tapes so that you
will know what you are listening for when you get out there. This
does help alot. Give the owls the respect they deserve, use your tapes
if you use them at all.
7. Be patient, its not easy. You might not find anything at all your
first couple times.
Some of our owl species are decreasing in numbers and their range
is shrinking. People can help our feathered night friends by reducing
chemical use on lawns and gardens thereby reducing the amount of
in the small mice and birds the owls eat. Owls will nest in artificial
boxes and putting up owl boxes can attract birds that may not have
a natural nest site available in your area.
Keep your eyes open for those owls that feed at the edge of roads
and highways and slow down while driving if you think you see a bird
near the road.
Keep your eyes and ears open at night and discover a whole new world
of night birds that hunt by stealth and silence. A few simple things
that you could do will insure that the next generation will be able
to enjoy a night with hooting owls. Help save our owls and show them
who gives a hoot about our owl friends.
George Bradd operates Just Birding, a Tofino company specialising
in birdwatching tours. For more info visit justbirding.com
Tofino Birdwatching Articles
Tofino birding guide George Bradd on the 9 species of owl that have been recorded in Tofino. Tips for Tofino owling.