Owls of Western Pennsylvania
March 7, 2022 | EDUCATION
– By: Sarada Sangameswaran, Interpretive Educator at Pittsburgh Botanic Garden
When was the last time you took a walk in the woods after dark? For many of us, the woods at night can seem daunting and sinister. Most natural areas are in fact closed to the public after dusk. However, twilight and dusk are a time of great activity for crepuscular (twilight) and nocturnal (nighttime) wildlife, who become active as the shadows set in. These include small rodents, raccoons, opossums, and owls.
Owls are nocturnal birds of prey, whose extraordinary hearing and keen eyesight allows them to navigate in near darkness. They are adept hunting machines, equipped with sharp talons, and stealth-like flight. Their diet is varied, from juicy insects to small mammals and birds. Owls are an important force to keep rodent populations in check.
Owls in North America are amongst the earliest nesting birds, often mating and finding nests while the snow is still on the ground. Unlike other birds, they do not build nests, but prefer to occupy cavities in trees, or take over nests abandoned by other large birds, such as crows. Female owls incubate the eggs, and once hatched, both parents hunt to feed their hungry family. By the time the young are ready to fledge, or leave the nest, there should be plenty of young animals in their habitat that can provide an easy meal for an inexperienced hunter.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, there are eight species of owls that either nest in or regularly visit Pennsylvania in wintertime. During the day, these birds hide in plain sight, most often in trees where they are camouflaged and impossible to spot. However, as darkness sets in, these majestic birds come to life. Their calls are beautiful haunting sounds of the night, signaling the presence of these iconic and elusive birds that inspire folklore and imagination.
Ready to look for owls in the dark and hear their calls? Join Sarada Sangameswaran and Shane Miller, Environmental Education Specialist with the PA Dept. of Conservation & Natural Resources, for the Nighttime Owl Prowl. Participants will roam the woodlands listening for owls that call the Garden home, and learn about their habits and habitats.