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LETTERS...

SPECIES OF OWLS IN FLORIDA?

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A recent visitor to the CFBW web page asked several questions about Owls for a research paper. Here is our answer:

Dear Jami:

Thanks for your inquiry about Owls in Florida.

Here is the information that you seek, I hope it helps in your research.

>What is the most common Owl in Florida?

In our experience the most common Owl would be the Great Horned Owl but that is only because of where we live. The Merritt Island National Wild Life Refuge surrounds the Cape Kennedy Space Center. This area is composed of vast wetlands, which is made up of both fresh and salt water. We see the Great Horned Owls late in the day, just about sunset and very early in the morning.

These Owls are voracious nocturnal eaters. They will eat anything from small fish and frogs to mammals as large as a house cat.

The Great Horned Owl is the largest Owl that resides in, or visits Florida. An adult will be up to 25 inches (45-63cm) in height.

These Owls will build a nest, but prefer to move into one that has already been constructed. We know of a couple of nests that these Owls use. These two nests were actually built by Osprey or Eagles. They appear to nest and begin rearing their young in late winter (February or March) and vacate the nests before the Osprey are ready to move back in. It is strange to see these birds with their usual two chicks dwarfed by the huge Eagle nest.

But to answer your question on which Owl is the most common, Research conducted by the "American Ornithologists Union" in their published 'Check List of the United States' indicates that it is the Common Screech Owl.

The Common Screech Owl is usually 7-10 inches (18-25cm) tall and can been seen roosting though out the day. It too primarily feeds at night. This variety of Owl has two color phases: Red (Rufous) and Grey. It is the only Owl in the United States that has a red phase. It, like the Great Horned Owl, will eat just about anything that slithers, swims, flies, runs, crawls or hops. Unfortunately, we have never had the pleasure of seeing one in the wild. We did see one that was being cared for at the Audubon Rescue Shelter in Orlando, Florida.

>What is the Smallest Owl in Florida?

The Common Screech Owl is the smallest maxing out at 10 inches.

>What is the least common Owl in Florida?

That's a tough question. The research from the "American Ornithologists Union" in their published 'Check List of the United States' indicates that it is the Short Eared Owl. This Owl is only here in Fall and Winter. The Short Eared Owl also appears to be declining in number.

We have not seen one of these either. Many of the nocturnal birds hide themselves during the day to sleep and are very difficult to see at night without special equipment. Many nocturnal birds are only identified by their distinctive calls.

This also a tough question because of "accidental's". Occasionally large storms pass through the area bringing with them birds that don't migrate through or live here. We will sometimes be able to spot and identify these "accidental" birds. So it is not at all impossible for an excellent bird watcher to actually spot one of the Owls that should not be here. The "Field Guide to the Birds of North America" published by the National Geographic Society, lists the Flammulated Owl as an accidental to Florida and Louisiana. It normally resides on the Western United States from Washington State down through Mexico. This Owl is only 6 3/4 inches tall. It's not our smallest because it normally does not live here.

The reason that Florida is great for bird watching is that Florida is on the direct path of the "Eastern Fly Way". This is the air route that migrating birds take each Spring and Fall to travel as far as South America and then return to North America.

REMEMBER:

The greatest threat to Florida's Owls is the continuing loss of habitat due to development and deforestation.

We hope this helps in your studies...

Regards,


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