Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Snowy Owl.   Many people expressed an interest in owls after I posted the photo of the Screech Owl in our barn.  With the help of Andy Nyhus I have posted photos and information of all the owls in Minnesota below. Hope you enjoy them.

For another great source on owls visit the website of the International Owl Center of Houston, Mn.
Their web site is      They have a great owl festival March 6,7,8 of 2015.

Photos of the Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl,  Great Gray Owl, Hawk Owl, and the Boreal Owl, were provided courtesy of Andrew Nyhus, of

Capture of an "injured" Snowy Owl.  The years 2012 and 2014 were "irruption" years for the Snowy Owls.  During irruption years birds from the far north end up in southern Minnesota.  Snowy Owls are birds of the arctic tundra, and they simply should not be here, and yet here they were.  Many of the birds are immature  and may not have highly developed rodent hunting skills.  In March of 2012 one of my rural neighbors called me and said they had a "white owl" in their ditch.  It was a young Snowy Owl that did not move at all.  Not knowing what to make of that we put out a call to owl expert Karla of the Houston, Mn Nature Center.  We described the owl's behavior and she felt it needed to be captured and taken to the Raptor Center on the St. Paul campus of the U of M.  We inquired as to whom was going to capture this bird.  Her reply was-well, why don't you do it.  Right!! Have you seen the talons on these owls?  Karla described the capture method to us and away we went with our high tech blankets and laundry basket in hand.  Ray Potthoff,  Bobbie, and I managed to capture the weak owl with no harm to us or it.  We took it up to the Raptor Center and left the weak bird in their care.  Sadly, it was too weak to survive. The staff at the Raptor Center felt it was a young owl that simply could not catch enough food down here to survive.

There are many theories on why Snowy Owls at times leave their tundra homes and come this far south.  The old theory was they simply had a lack of rodents to eat up there and left for the south.  The latest theory seems to be that hunting on the tundra is so good some years  that the adults are able to hatch out too many young owls for the limited habitat, and this leads to an over population of owls which pushes them south some winters.  2012, 2014, and even to a degree, this year has brought us a winter treat in the form of a Snowy Owl irruption.  We have been "Birding" for almost 50 years now and only saw one Snowy Owl in the first 47 years of birding.  We have seen eight Snowy Owls in the past 3 years and hope to see more this year. There are reports of Snowys in Dodge, Steele, and Mower counties this year.

Barred Owl.  Photo courtesy of Arol McCaslin.  This somewhat common owl is a large (17-24 in. tall) owl of our deciduous woodlands.  This nocturnal preditor hunts mainly squirrels and small rodents in our forestlands.  We seldom see, but often hear, this woodland owl.  The call is longer and louder than the call of the Great Horned Owl.  It goes something like this:
"hoo-hoo-wahooo", or some have described the song as "who cooks for you".  The call is often quickly repeated and then they often drag the ending out longer on the second repeat.
Once you hear the this owl,  you will forever know it.  During the spring courting season they go crazy and will sometime very loudly vocalize with what can only be described as "jungle calls".

Great Horned Owl.  A large (18-25 in. tall) owl that prefers small woodlots in open country.  Most Great Horned Owls are BROWN.  This almost white one showed up at our place in December of 2011 and probably came down from the sub-arctic that winter.  Even though it is light colored you can tell it is a Great Horned by it ear tufts and great size.  The "ear tufts" are really just feathers.
The Great Horned is quite common and is a superb hunter.  It hunts not only small mammals but prey as large as rabbits and skunks. They begin nesting in late winter and we have noticed that they like to use abandoned Red-tailed Hawk nests. The call of the Great Horned is softer and has less "hoos" than the Barred Owl.  Because our house is located where the grasslands meet the forestlands, we have both Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls that come up to hunt our rabbits and mice. Both species have at times brought their young up to the yard to teach them how to hunt.  We seldom see them, but on many a warm late spring night we hear them "hooing" to each other.  (Sometimes the "hooing" goes on all night long).  On several occasions we have found mice and weasel that have had their heads severed from their bodies.  This is a technique that owls use to get at the high energy brain tissue of their prey.  It is little wonder that humans have always found owls interesting.

Eastern Screech-Owl.  A somewhat uncommon small (8-9 in. tall) woodland owl of southern  Minnesota. This one was spending the winter in our old barn.  This small rodent hunter comes in two color phases:  gray (shown above) and brownish.  It does not really "screech." Some have described the sound as more like the whinny of a horse or a trill.  We seem to have a resident population of Screech Owls at our place; although we do not see them often, as they are nocturnal and secretive.

Several years ago (when I had only a cheap film camera), this fellow got into our basement.  One night we heard something banging on the basement door about 1 A.M.  Not good!  I slowly opened the door and saw nothing.  Went down into the basement and there was this Screech Owl in the corner.  It took us a while to come up with a removal plan-the trusty fish net.  After several swoops around the basement we netted the little fellow and released it outside. To this day we do not know how it got into the basement.

Northern Saw-whet Owl.  A very small (7-9 in. tall), uncommon owl of woodlands usually seen in SE Minnesota only during the spring and fall migration. This owl is a  hunter of small rodents and insecst.  I have never seen one, but have heard them at our place.  This owl photo and the following five owl photos are courtesy of Andrew Nyhus,  of
Thank you Andrew.


Long-eared Owl.  This medium sized owl (13-16 in. tall) is somewhat uncommon throughout all of Minnesota.  It is secretive and prefers dense stands of conifers and is therefore seldom seen.  The "long ears" are actually feather tufts.  When threatened they stretch and make their bodies longer (perhaps to look bigger).  Another rodent hunter.

Short-eared Owl on the run from a young eagle.  Short-eared Owls are medium-small (13-17 in. tall)
owls of grasslands, marshes, and open country.  They are uncommon and their numbers are in decline as we lose grasslands to corn/soybean and development. They often hunt rodents during the day by flying low over the grasslands.  


Great Gray Owl.   The largest owl found in North America (24-33 in. tall).  A rare rodent hunter of the frozen bogs in northern Minnesota.   It seems that a few are year around residence of the boglands of northern Minnesota.  During irruption years they become somewhat more common.

Northern Hawk Owl.  A rare owl of  Canada that is sometimes found in northern Minnesota in the winter.  This relatively small-medium sized owl (15-17 in.tall) prefers bogs and woodland edges for its rodent hunting habitats.  Unlike most owls, it often hunts during the day.  Its long tail gives it a somewhat hawk-like look.  I have only seen one of these, and oddly enough it was in northern Iowa.

Boreal Owl.   A very rare small (9-12 in. tall)  owl of the far northeastern portion of Minnesota. Prefers conifers of the far northland and is a nocturnal hunter of small rodents and insects. I have not personally seen one.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

This Screech Owl has been spending the winter in our barn.  Sadly our 100+ year old barn is in a state of collapse and is currently being taken down. We have a lot of good owl habitat and this one will probably just find another place close by to call home.

Monday, January 12, 2015


Horned Lark.    Horned Larks are birds of the wind swept open country.  We often will see these sparrow-sized birds rise up off the edges of roads in small flocks.  When they rise up they will often flash their whitish breast as a key to help us identify them.  Horned Larks are usually found in flocks of 20 or less, and often in the dead of winter in very small flocks.  They can be confused with another open country bird -the Snow Bunting.  Snow Buntings will flash not only their white breasts, but will also flash their black and white wings.  Snow Buntings often come in larger flocks than the Horned Larks.   See photos of the Snow Buntings below.

Flock of Snow Buntings flashing their black and white wings.  This was a flock of about 80 birds that rose up off the edge of the road 1/2 mile east of the Spring Valley, MN  park.,

Snow Bunting (photo courtesy of Bruce Lees).  Birds of the Tundra, except in winter, when they come south to visit us in Minnesota.

Came upon a flock of over 100 crows in the valley of the Middle Branch of the Root River between Fillmore and Chatfield.

One of the last iron bridges in Fillmore County.  This one, over Bear Creek, is soon to be replaced by a boring cement model.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

-10 degrees at noon and this pheasant was standing one one leg under our spruce tree on the lawn.  The wind chill is -30 F.  Tomorrow will be warmer(10) but winds up to 45 mph will make travel in  our area tough.  Winter is here-Minnesota is no place for the timid.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

With the below zero weather we often are treated to sundogs.  This one is from Jan. 4, 2015.
To view more of our nature photos go up and to the right and click on any month desired.

 Female Cardinal on same branch as male below.  We have about 10 Cardinal at a time now.

 Male Cardinal waiting its turn to get to our sunflower feeder.