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The Last Chapter – Story of the Owl
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The Last Chapter – Story of the Owl

[caption id="attachment_21694" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Ted Cheskey Ted Cheskey
Senior Conservation Manager – Bird Conservation, Education & Networks[/caption] A flock of Wild Turkeys greeted me in the parking lot of the Ottawa Wild Bird Care Centre on Friday morning. Inside, I signed the papers, and passed “Shoo Shoo” (of course we gave our little Saw-whet Owl a name) to some skilled volunteers. He was eating and was definitely perkier than the night before. There was hope. The Centre is tucked into a beautiful forest on the outskirts of Ottawa. I felt better myself being surrounded by trees gradually shedding their magnificent plumage, with the grind and churning of the city like a distant memory. A great environment to heal, I thought. The weekend passed and on Monday afternoon I called the Centre. Shoo Shoo was eating and was taking medicine to address any infection and inflammation. They eye was not healing. I felt uneasy by the news as I thought he would be getting better by now. On Tuesday afternoon I had an idea. If Shoo Shoo needed long term care, the Owl Foundation - a remarkable, world class facility for owl care established by Kay and Larry McKeever dozens of years ago on the Niagara Peninsula - was the place for Shoo Shoo to recover or live out its life if the eye was lost. I contacted the Foundation, and shortly after received a call from the Wild Bird Care Centre. Of course they knew each other well and talked. Plans were in the making for me to deliver two owls to the Foundation, Shoo Shoo, and a much larger Barred Owl – the one who says “who cooks for you, who cooks for you allllll” from deep in the forests around Ottawa and Gatineau.  Plans were made, Cris was happy with the new travel arrangement as was cousin Di. Then the call Thursday morning, the call that no one wants, but which reminds us how fragile life is. A bunch of us did our best to help our little owl; the building maintenance manager, the security people at the British Consulate, my colleagues, my wife and the folks at the Ottawa Wild Bird Care Centre. But on Thursday morning Shoo Shoo died. The Centre director told me that he had been in decline the last few days, and in the end the trauma to its head took its toll. I am sad, but also grateful for the compassionate care that I witnessed. Despite all of the gloomy news in the world I am reminded of the goodness that we are all capable of. [one_half] [caption id="attachment_29774" align="alignnone" width="300"]Owl with mouse Figure 1: Shoo Shoo the Saw-whet Owl takes a mouse for dinner. Photo by Ted Cheskey[/caption] [/one_half] [one_half_last] [caption id="attachment_29775" align="alignnone" width="279"]Wild Bird Care Centre Figure 2: Welcoming entrance to Ottawa's Wild Bird Care Centre. Photo by Ted Cheskey[/caption] [/one_half_last] Epilogue On Friday night we picked up the big Barred Owl in a small carry kennel that fit nicely into our car. The trip to Ajax was uneventful and the Barred Owl did not make a peep. The next morning, Shoo Shoozao (the name Cris gave the Barred Owl which I think means the "big Shoo Shoo" in Portuguese), Cris, Di and I travelled to Vineland. Annick, the bird care manager for the Owl Foundation met us and guided us to the assessment room where the big owl was deftly removed from his carrying box and carefully assessed – much like a physical exam that we humans get every so often. He had recovered from a collision with a vehicle, the most frequent source in injury for owls that are brought to the Centre. Roads and traffic take a big toll on owls, which hunt along roadsides where maintained grassy habitat encourages populations of small mammals like meadow voles and white-footed mice. Owls hunt at night using their hearing to locate prey, lock-onto it with their radar-like senses, then launch themselves towards it, gliding silently through the air, sometime across a road towards their prey on the other side. Unfortunately this level of concentration is too often broken by a fast moving vehicle, and the resulting collision is usually fatal. In the case of Shoo Shoozao, luckily the impact was with its tail and “lower body,” and not so severe to prevent full recovery. Annick admitted our big Barred Owl with a good prognosis for release later this fall or next spring when the new tail grows in. Before leaving we were blessed with a few minutes with co-founder of The Owl Foundation, author and award-winner Kay McKeever. In the sunroom we enjoyed a tea with Kay, her amazing Great Gray Owl, also survivor of a vehicle collision, perched statue-like in the middle of the room, and her three very large house cats.  At 92, Kay is still full of passion for her owls and stories from her past.  The grace and compassion from Kay and Annick touched us deeply, and buoyed our spirits as we returned to our troubled human world. [one_half] [caption id="attachment_29776" align="alignnone" width="300"]Barred Owl on Examining Table Figure 3: Barred Owl on examination table, Owl Foundation. Photo by Ted Cheskey[/caption] [/one_half] [one_half_last] [caption id="attachment_29777" align="alignnone" width="300"]Kay Mckeever and Ted Figure 4: Myself and Kay McKeever. Photo by Cris Navarro[/caption] [/one_half_last]

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Who’s there? Identifying owl calls 
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Who’s there? Identifying owl calls 

Is there an owl in your neighbourhood? Probably. Some can be found almost anywhere with trees, even in the city! Even so, owls are famously mysterious. Many people have never seen one in the wild. Winter is a great time to look because the bare branches help reveal roosts. Some owls such as the Great Horned and Northern Saw-Whet also become more vocal in late winter as breeding season approaches.

Guide to common Canadian owls and their sounds

Barred Owl

  Image of a Barred Owl
Habitat: Mature forests across southern Canada. Most active during: Night. Sounds: Its most famous call sounds like a raspy: “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all?”

Great Horned Owl

  Image of a Great Horned Owl
Habitat: Diverse treed landscapes across North America, including urban parks. Most active during: Dusk and night. Sounds: The classic owl sound effect used in TV and film, which sounds like: “Who’s awake? Me too.”

Eastern and Western Screech Owl

[caption id="attachment_24284" align="alignleft" width="269"]Eastern Screech Owl by Mike Norkum. CC BY ND 2.0 Eastern Screech Owl by Mike Norkum. CC BY ND 2.0[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_24285" align="alignleft" width="236"]Image of a Western Screech Owl Western Screech Owl by Jon Nelson. CC BY 2.0[/caption]
Habitat: Both species use a wide range of habitats, including urban parks. The eastern species occurs in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec; the western screech is found in BC. Most active during: Night. Sounds: While these two species look alike, they sound different. The eastern screech produces a high-pitched whinny whereas the western screech trills a series of nasal hoots that gets faster at the end.

Snowy Owl

Image of a Snowy Owl
Habitat: Open spaces including shorelines, airfields and farms. Although they breed in the tundra, some winters they migrate to southern Canada and the US. Most active during: Daytime. Sounds: Harsh squawks.

Short-Eared Owl

Image of a Short Eared Owl
Habitat: Open areas like farmland and marshes. This species breeds across Canada, but is usually only found in BC and Ontario during winter. Most active during: Dawn and dusk. Sounds: Raspy yips or quiet hoots.

Long-Eared Owl

Image of a Long-Eared Owl
Habitat: Woodlands across southern Canada. Most active during: Night. Sounds: Evenly spaced hoots, like the sound made by blowing across the top of a bottle.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Image of a Northern Saw Whet Owl
Habitat: Mature forests across southern Canada. Most active during: Night. Sounds: Shrill, monotonous toots. Also high-pitched whines, for which the species might be named; apparently someone thought it sounded like the whetting of a saw.

Finding owls

Here are a few other clues you can look for:
  • Other birds making noise and mobbing the owl;
  • Pellets (regurgitated clumps of indigestible food) and white poop stains around the bases of tree trunks;
  • A habitat that matches your target species’ requirements. Does it need a perch with a view? Open space for hunting? Dense forest for shelter?

Respecting owls

Visiting owls is exciting, but it’s important to be a polite guest. To protect the owls’ well being, please do not:
  1. Get too close. If an owl is staring at you, elongating its body or flying away, it needs more space.
  2. Lure owls closer with food. This can encourage dangerous habits.
  3. Be noisy. Staying quiet will also increase your chances of seeing an owl.
  4. Play owl recordings. It is stressful for an owl to respond to ‘false alarms,’ thinking another bird is nearby.
  5. Tell all your friends. Too much human traffic would be disturbing.

Bird Tweet of the Week: Northern Saw-Whet Owl
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Bird Tweet of the Week: Northern Saw-Whet Owl

The common name Saw-whet Owl comes from the bird’s whine-like call that sounds like the sharpening, or whetting, of a handsaw blade. [audio mp3="https://wxv73zw8wg-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Sequence-01_1.mp3"][/audio]   [caption id="attachment_14577" align="alignleft" width="200"]northern saw-whet owl Northern Saw-Whet Owl. Photographed by Bob Bodge[/caption]   Each week we introduce a new bird from the Ottawa-Gatineau area through our segment on CBC Radio's In Town and Out. Alex MacDonald, Nature Canada's Manager of Protected Areas, shares interesting facts about the birds that live in our communities. Be sure to tune-in to "Bird Tweet of the Week" on CBC Radio One 91.5 FM on Saturday mornings from 6am to 9am and listen to past episodes on our website This episode aired on Saturday October 12, 2013      

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