Owls are among the most fascinating of birds and always exciting to see in the wild.
The Fraser delta is one of the best locations in Canada for seeing wintering owls, from the tiny Saw-whet Owl to the magnificent Snowy Owl. The excitement of spotting or photographing an owl can cause the birds harm: it is important to remember owls are nocturnal (active at night) and should never be disturbed at their daytime roost. These special birds are protected under provincial regulations.
Delta’s dykes provide an excellent viewpoint for observing owls responsibly as several species occur in neighbouring fields. Barn Owls find older farm buildings to be attractive nesting places and recent community efforts are providing additional free-standing nest boxes.
Short-eared Owls are open-country birds, hunting for voles and other rodents in marshes and grassy fields. They emerge in the early evening from their daytime roosting spot to glide over the foreshore, where they compete for food with Northern Harriers, a type of hawk.
Long-eared Owls spend daylight hours deep in a hedgerow and usually wait for darkness to emerge. Numbers of the spectacular Snowy Owl, a large Arctic owl, rise and fall according to fluctuating rodent populations on the tundra.
Occasionally, large numbers of Snowies head south in winter, but in most years just a few are seen here. Barred Owl and Great Horned Owl are woodland species, occurring throughout Delta where mature trees have been retained.
The Delta Naturalists Society has created a brochure (www.dncb.wordpress.com/dns/brochures/) reminding the public of responsible wildlife-viewing etiquette, with a special emphasis on owl photography.
Owls should never be urged into wakefulness or flight, as this will reduce their survival chances. Correct viewing etiquette includes staying on the dykes, keeping your distance from roosting birds, and never using bait or lures to entice birds.
Editor’s note: Nature Notes is a monthly feature in the Optimist presented by the Delta Naturalists Society and their community partners.