This morning the Museum held its last regular Discover the Grounds program of the year. This particular incarnation had a focus on birds in general, and owls in particular, and featured two guest speakers: artist Calder Kamin, whose bird decals, Impact Proof, can be seen on the windows in the Museum’s South Lobby; and Lynn Sciumbato, of Morningstar Wildlife Rehabilitation. In addition, Lynn brought some special guests of her own who, quite frankly, stole the show. She arrived with three live owls.
The owls she brought represent the three species of owl found in Arkansas: the screech owl (which, by the way, does not screech), the barred owl, and the great horned owl. At least two of these species are known to inhabit Crystal Bridges’ grounds: the tiny, adorable screech owl, which nests in old woodpecker holes in dead trees but is rarely seen; and the barred owl, which makes regular appearances.
Here’s a little bit of what we learned (please pardon my blurry phone photos. Horticulturalist Cody George has better ones and I’ll upload those as soon as I receive them):The screech owl feeds mainly on insects: many of them common garden and farm pests such as Japanese beetles and grasshoppers. They need a forest habitat because of their reliance on tree cavities for nesting sites. The screech owls in our neck of the woods have a reddish hue called “red phase.” This is because one of their preferred daytime hide-outs is in the thick limbs of cedar trees, where they can snuggle up to the trunk and nap. Here in Northwest Arkansas, most of our cedars are Eastern red cedars, whose trunks have a reddish hue, so the little owls (did I mention how ADORABLE they are?), with their reddish feathers, are nicely camouflaged.
The barred owl is the one most commonly seen here at Crystal Bridges. It has a big fluffy dished face and looks much larger than it is. It is, in fact, a pretty small owl covered in a lot of puffy feathers. It takes small prey, such as mice, voles, and such, but according to Lynn, the barred owl’s most common food is frogs. Frogs don’t fight back much, you see, and they don’t have pesky fur or claws or teeth, so the barred owl, which is a fairly laid-back, Type B sort of owl, finds it easier to nab. For this reason, barred owls can often be found where trees and water combine, such as here at Crystal Bridges. Barred owls are mighty listeners: with extra-fine hearing that helps them locate prey in the forest. Lynn says a barred owl can hear a mouse rustling in the leaf litter up to a mile away. These owls also have a whole host of calls–the most well-known of which is the “Who, Who, Who Cooks for You” call–and they often communicate with one another across the forest. Barred owls are also more sociable and curious than other owls, and so they will often respond to a well-performed human mimic of their call, either by responding in kind, or sometimes actually flying in close to get a look at the mimicker. (More on this, and how you can see and hear it for yourself, below.)
The great horned owl is larger than the barred owl, and much more predatory in aspect, with its upright “ear” feathers and piercing gaze. The tufts on its head are not actually its ears, just upright feathers. Of the three owls in Arkansas, this owl relies most heavily upon its sight in hunting: swooping over open fields for a glimpse of prey below. This owl also has enormous feet and talons that can apply as much as 200 pounds of pressure: easily enough to pierce, immobilize, and kill much larger prey than the other owls. It can carry off prey up to half its body-weight in size, but is capable of taking down prey much larger and just eating it on the ground. They have one call: the deep, throaty “Whoooo Whoooo Whooo” we all associate with owls in general and the great horned owl in particular. These are serious predators, and the only animal that regularly preys on skunks. They are, in fact, the skunk’s only natural enemy (discounting humans and cars).
Want to try calling our resident barred owls? Tonight, we are holding a special evening session of Discover the Grounds out on the trails with expert owl caller Bob Ross, who will guide participants on a walk through the Crystal Bridges’ forest and demonstrate his owl-calling skills. Calder Kamin will be there, too, to talk about her work and how you can become a citizen-scientist. Whether or not the barred owls turn up, this should make for a fun and unusual evening experience of the Museum’s trails! The walk will take place rain or shine.