Published on January 23, 2009
Owl Kill Site on Caesar Pond Image: http://www.sky-hunters.org January 20, 2009
January 20th, 2009...While snowshoeing on Caesar Pond, we noticed three widely separate fresh disturbances, toward the middle of pond, with no footprints or ski marks leading up to them. We came upon what we think are a series of kill sites created by either a great horned owl or a barred owl.
Foot and Tail Drag: We think an owl must have put its feet and tail down brieﬂy to create a bit of drag before landing to try and capture a rodent that it heard scurrying under the snow. What boggles our minds is that we cannot ﬁgure out what a rodent would be doing smack dab in the middle of the pond where there are no food sources.
Wing tips touch snow: Here, I think the bird is coming in for a landing and must have lifted its feet up before plunging into the snow, with only its wing tips or tail feathers dragging.
Kill Site # 1: Here, the owl took the plunge into the snow. It looks like the owl did a lot of frantic digging. The snow is a minimum of 13 inches deep at this site. We did not see any feathers, or fur, or blood.
Bird Kill Site (Side View): Here is a side view of the kill site. I couldn’t ﬁnd any footprints in this depression, but check out the wing prints. WOW! After the owl dug here, it must have ﬂown to the next location to try another pounce on the rodent it must have been tracking.
Quote from Susan Hayward (Stanton Bird Club): • ...this is not fun and games of making snow angels. This is a great horned owl (maybe a barred, but the prints look too small) trying desperately to get dinner - probably a rodent. • Owls can triangulate the movement and sound of rodents under the snow, pounce (this looks like there was some struggle involved) and ﬂy off with the prey. I have seen these kill sites fairly often, but never this big due to repeated strikes and some digging necessary to get the rodent from below deep, ﬂuffy snow.
Kill site # 2, 6 feet away from Site # 1...Conjecture: The owl must have tracked the rodent under the snow and put its feet down to try to grab the rodent as it was running. The owl spread its wings out...tilted back a bit, hence the tail feather patterns...put its feet down and skidded forward.
Conjecture: When the owl stopped, it may have stomped the ground to scare up the rodent, then leaned forward and fell, with its shoulders digging into the snow, probably to trap the rodent, then it hopped once before taking off.
Side View Close-up: Note that the owl took one extra hop out of the quot;body depressionquot;, while continuing to spread its wings before takeoff. If you look at the outermost set of footprints, you can see that the owl's feet are most likely closed, leaving more of a feathered impression as it was lifting off the ground.
Takeoff: At this point, I am guessing the owl touched the snow with just a few toe and wing swipes before gaining altitude.
Rough Measurement: The wing span is about 42quot;, consistent with either a Great Horned Owl (44quot; wingspan) or a Barred Owl (42quot; wingspan). The length of the slide zone is 6 feet from the outer footprint area to the end of the tail feather imprint.
Quote from Susan Hayward (Stanton Bird Club): • The measurement of wing span is interesting and helpful. The WS for great-horned is 44quot; and barred is 42quot;. So maybe it was barred and not great-horned. Lots of distortion with deep light snow. As the snow melts in March, across the pond, you should be able to see the ridges of the pathways created by the rodents all winter under the snow and unseen.The barred are very active right now and will be for the next 6 weeks. The young are about to hatch, and March is a busy month of 'mousing' to keep the kids well fed. You may be treated to this snow impression again!
The End • All photos are property of Laurie Haines. Please ask permission if you would like to use them in another venue besides this slide presentation. • http://mainenaturediary.com
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