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Animals I Have Known Part #2

Boreal Owls
by Dan Hartman

Oct. 30, 2010

Animals I Have Known  Part #2


   Boreal owls, like lynx, have always symbolized wilderness to me.  More creatures to be found in Canada and points further north, I knew chances of spotting either here in Yellowstone would be rare.  Well last year I was lucky enough to finally glimpse a lynx, possibly the last I'll ever see, but boreal owls have been like a ladder leading to the loft.  I've had to climb it one step at a time and learn all I could before being allowed to test the next wrung.

     Cindy found our first boreal below our cabin our first winter here, almost twenty years ago.  I spent the entire day with it mostly watching it sleep.  But I did learn which birds liked to harass it, what type of perches it preferred and it hunted in tree wells, (the area under large conifers where the snow depth is lessened).

     A couple of years later I spotted a boreal perched in our front year.  It had been dark for hours and our porch light verily reached him.  The next day I put a perch closer to our light, then remembering the little owls hunted in tree wells, I dug a trench in the snow below the perch.  Sure enough, the boreal returned that night and many more after to hunt mice and voles crossing the open track.

     As the years passed we would come across boreals every other year or so, usually by investigating harassing birds.  Once we flipped on our porch light an hour before dawn and there in the snow sat a boreal clutching a flying squirrel.  I was able to get a few photos to document the occasion, as it was very rare.

     All of our sightings so far had come between November and March. This supported the common belief that the owls only moved this far south during harsh winters, and then would return to Canada and Alaska for breeding.  One July, however, we found a Juvenal being harassed by a squirrel. Obviously it had come from a nest nearby.  The following spring we found an adult nicked by a car a mile from our cabin.  Luckily it recovered and flew off into the timber.  Then I found a road killed adult near Pebble Creek.  The evidence was mounting.  We have a nesting population in our area.  The next spring starting in March I went out at night and listened for courting boreals.  Amazingly I heard them everywhere!  In a fourteen-mile stretch I identified at least twelve.  By late April I was getting some idea where possible nests could be located.  I figured at least four.

     In late June during my owl class for the Yellowstone Institute we actually discovered boreal chicks by checking out one of my hotspots I had figured out in April.

     It seems one of the problems boreals have in our area is lack of nesting sites.  This fall I've hung nesting boxes all through the forest around our cabin.  If I am successful with just one, I'll be happy.

     It's great to realize what one can accomplish when there is passion involved.  I'll admit twenty years is a long time to realize a goal. But what I do is a life's work, and the woods are a pretty great classroom.


View slide show

Boreal at our cabin

Boreal Owl Near Undine Falls

Boreal owl at Midnight

Boreal with Flying Squirrel

Boreal chick harassed by a red squirrel


Hanging an Owl Box

Boreal Chick

Boreal Chicks