GOOD Morning Wilton is thrilled to introduce our newest feature, a column contributed by the environmental educators at Woodcock Nature Center. They’ll be bringing you news and information about what’s happening seasonally in nature where we live and answering reader questions about our local environment and wildlife. (Email questions directly to Woodcock Nature Center.) 

A Parliament of Owls

By: Jennifer Bradshaw, Environmental Educator & Birds of Prey
Woodcock Nature Center

A cast of falcons, a mews of hawks and a parliament of owls–understandably, most people don’t know the collective nouns for some of these incredible birds of prey. Among these spectacular species of birds, the owl happens to be my personal favorite. Owls have a deep connection with wisdom and are often associated with magic and mystery–and this might be why they fascinate me so much.

The owl was a symbol of Athena, goddess of wisdom and strategy. Native American cultures wore their feathers to protect them against evil spirits and in Middle Eastern cultures the owl was seen as a sacred guardian. Despite the mythology and culture of owls that predates 499 BCE the oldest owl fossil ever found was the Ogygoptynx which lived in what is now Colorado around 61 million years ago. Suffice it to say, these big-eyed beauties are unique, alluring and impressive creatures.

In the world, there are 216 species of owls–and yet only seven species of owls call CT home.

  • Great Horned Owl (Largest)
  • Barred Owl
  • Common Barn Owl
  • Long-Eared Owl
  • Short-Eared Owl
  • Eastern Screech-Owl
  • Northern Saw-Whet Owl (Smallest)

A common myth is that all owls are nocturnal and only hunt at night. The truth is most of the owls that live here are actually crepuscular. This means they are active primarily during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk. No matter what time of day owls search for food they have exceptional attributes which make them expert hunters. With binocular vision and a highly developed auditory system, owls make fierce predators. They are capable of locating prey with remarkable accuracy and scoop up their intended meal without even making a sound.

So what do they eat? The answer mainly depends on the species of owl. For example, Screech Owls surprisingly feed mostly on insects, tadpoles and frogs, while Barn Owls eat mainly mice and voles. Barred Owls are opportunistic feeders who eat a wide range of prey, from small mammals and birds to frogs and fish. The only natural predator of a Striped Skunk is a Great Horned Owl, primarily because of the bird’s poor sense of smell.

The way an owl consumes and digests their food is quite different than other animals. Owls have no teeth and therefore cannot chew. They swallow small prey items whole, while tear larger prey into smaller pieces using their beaks and powerful talons. Several hours after eating the indigestible parts such as the fur, the bones and teeth are compressed into a pellet. Once the digestive system has finished extracting the nutrients from the food, the remains (pellet) are regurgitated with not much effort or discomfort.

Here at the Woodcock Nature Center we have three species of birds–a Barred Owl named Click, a Great Horned Owl name Hooty and Dakota, our Red-tailed Hawk. All of these birds are non-releasable due to various injuries and are unable to capture prey on their own. They depend on us to provide them with the food they need. Each day our birds consume 4-5 large mice, 1-2 medium rats or day old chicks. These prey items come to us frozen, so we need to thaw them the day before. In one month it costs us anywhere from $250-$300 to feed our birds.

Woodcock Nature Center is open from dawn till dusk, we invite you to stop by and visit Click, Hooty and Dakota in their outdoor enclosures! Learn more on the Woodcock Nature Center website.

Woodcock Nature Center is holding an upcoming mini-fundraiser, Hikes, Hops & Hooty! on Thursday, March 21 from 6:30-8:30 p.m., to support Woodcock’s resident animals. Guests will gather by the fire in Woodcock’s pavilion for a hearty bite to eat and a beer from Nod Hill Brewery, and then set out on the trails in search of owls to learn more about birds of prey. Best of all, everyone will have an unforgettable encounter with Hooty, our amazing Great Horned Owl. Registration is required, tickets are $45 per person; 21 and over.