Saturday, October 19, 2013

Caught Me Singing at the Gate

Not sure
if this is the front or the back

Also not sure if this is a juvenile Great horned-owl,  Bubo virginianus, as heard making its juvenile squawk in the yard throughout the summer or a western screech owl, Megascops kennicottii, whose call and bark I often hear in the early eveningFor points of reference, that fence post is a recycled telephone pole and is 11" in diameter and the distance between the two strands of barbwire is 9.5". A learned reader alerted me to the fact that this is possibly a screech owl. Please feel free to comment on any possible errors in my posts. Blogging is more fun when it's a dialogue. And it would be totally cool if I happened to be serenading a western screech owl.


  1. I hate to use size as a criterion but the National Geographic guide has Screech-Owl length of 8.5" and Great Horned Owl of 18". Length is tail to bill tip. Based on the fence spans, I don't think any of these match real well, but I think I like screech-owl too. Once a bird is flying, it will be adult-sized. Have you heard screech-owls calling recently?

  2. Some of my owl friends - yes, I have OWL friends - commented offline to me on these photos and because the conversation is getting so interesting, I am going to summarize their comments here. Apologies for my paraphrasing, as you can see, these folks are into owls:
    RT: Great Horned Owls (GHO or GHOW) are shockingly huge, and juvies become full size quickly . . . 18" tall and 6"+ wide . . .[long conversation between us regarding the size of the pole] . . . maybe a western screech owl.
    KD: How tall was it?
    Photos 6 & 7 show GHOW juvies, they look whiter than yours . . . Scroll to the bottom & arrow through at:
    It looks very similar to the WESO at the bottom of:
    Another option is to post it to:
    I just started following this recently; it's interesting to read the discussions about what the birds might be. My guess is Western Screech (WESO) . . . The WESO is probably half the size of a GHOW (adults, that is). WESO aren't as small as Northern Saw-whet or Northern Pygmy, but they are on the small side (smaller than a Barn Owl).
    KP: My first thought was Great Horned Owl, when I saw those huge yellow eyes! Also, there is a bit of white showing under the throat area, which is typical of GHO . . . it appears that the streaking on the breast of the bird is more horizontal. Western Screech would show a more vertical streaking pattern. I'm not sure if a young Screech would be horizontal though.
    As for size, the pole makes this look like a smaller owl. However, Western Screech are tiny and I think would look very dwarfed by the pole. This bird may look smaller if it was cold, therefore keeping the feathers close to the body.
    GH: I'm going to take a chance on confusing matters by going against the grain and calling this a Great Horned Owl, albeit a diminutive one. I agree with Jan regarding the confounding quality of size in these images. It could possibly be either species according to that alone. But there are 4 other things which point to GHO rather than W. Screech-owl: (1) the presence of a white bib in the throat area, which is prominent in GHOs most of the time (although it can be concealed in certain body postures). This is not a feature found in WESO (banders' code name for the smaller species). (2) the intraocular distance between the eyes seems too wide, although open to interpretation in these images. (3) WESO has dark streaking in a vertical dimension on the breast (against a background of more complex, but lighter markings), whereas this individual appears to have horizontal barring in that area instead, which points to GHO. And (4), I happen to have a taxidermied WESO handy. Its width across the breast, including folded wings, is under 3.5 inches. If the post is 11 inches wide, the owl in the photos seems to be at least half that width, and perhaps more of its darker sides is hidden in the gloom. Hope this is helpful. They're both wonderful so I'm happy they're around either way.
    Someone asked me how the photo was taken: I see this owl frequently when I come in my gate at night, so one night I was ready with my Nikon 7000 and a 200mm lens. I pulled up to the owl in my car slowly with lights down and pointed the camera out of the window rather than getting out of the car. ISO 8000, f/4, 1/80 second exposure, flash. These photos are cropped, exposure lightened and sharpened in Lightroom Software. Photo was taken September 12 at 8:52 pm.

    Someone else asked what was I singing at the time - Talking Heads, The Great Curve. At this time, we do not know the musical preferences of different species of owls to assist in this identification.

    Thank you owl friends. Another owl mystery coming up soon.


Comments let me know to keep on sharing what's happening at the Dipper Ranch. You can either use an existing account or choose "Anonymous" by clicking the arrow after the "Comment As" box. Your comment will appear after a delay to allow screening of spam.