Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Owling in the Pacific Northwest

Owls have always been somewhat of a mystery to me. When I was little I didn’t think much of them, but as I got older and more interested in birds in general I began to wonder about the living habits of owls and where and how I could see them. I soon learned that owls are easy to find if you look in the right places. For about a month my dad and I observed a pair of Barred Owls raise about 5 owlets in the Seattle Arboretum. After watching these owls I began to wonder about different types of owls in Seattle; I knew Barred Owls were relatively common but I had no idea how common. The Barred owls are able to adapt to almost any environment and will eat almost anything smaller than it (including other owls). This makes for a bird who's population will grow very fast, some might even say too fast. The Barred owl has almost put its more delicate and less intelligent cousin the Spotted Owl into extinction. The Spotted Owl population has been a problem in the Pacific Northwest for years. The Spotted Owls live only in old growth forests,  logging puts their habitat at a major low. The Spotted Owl is only one owl problem in the Pacific Northwest.

In February I went to an owling seminar hosted by Jamie Acker, he taught us about the different kinds of owls in Washington and how they are being affected. He also took my dad and I to one of his netting operations where he nets Saw-Whet Owls on Bainbridge Island, Wa. It was a beautiful full moon night but that made for lousy netting. We saw 2 Saw-Whet Owls fly overhead and heard about 4 others but the moon was so bright that the owls could see the nets.We heard about 20 coyotes yapping in the night, heard some sea lions from across the island and only saw one other Barred Owl that night.

 Besides the Spotted Owl, another owl called the Western Screech Owl is at risk. Years ago, Screech Owls were common in Washington. Because of habitat loss and prey like Barred Owls the numbers of Screech owls has gone way down in the past several years. This has caused the owl to try to adapt to a new environment. Instead of using the forest to nest some owls have resorted to living in city parks. In these parks they can usually escape Barred owls and since Screech Owls are small they can make do with a small amount of land. Many people put up large birdhouses in parks to give the owls a good place to nest. This is just one way people have been helping owls.

Of course you can help birds by planting trees, or putting up bird houses but some people have been saying the only way to save the owls of the northwest is to exterminate a certain amount of the Barred Owl population. In the year 1960 there were no Barred Owls in the state of Washington, now on Bainbridge Island alone there are about 27 pairs. These owls are rapidly expanding and making other owls population rapidly decrease, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife has started shooting Barred Owls mainly to save the Spotted Owls. Many are saying that this is not a wise decision because Barred Owls have been a part of the Pacific Northwest Ecosystem for millions of years so there is no reason that them competing with other owls should justify human intervention. Although this is a very good argument many of the people who are saying this are for logging old growth forests and think any attempt to save the Spotted Owl, which has hindered logging companies since the 80’s is a waste of time. At this point I don’t know what to think, I only hope that we are making the right choice by shooting Barred Owls because as we have seen once we mess up the ecosystem it is very hard to make it better again.

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