That’s not a typo — these top-tier players are worth celebrating.
February means football for a lot of folks. Fans break out the party snacks and gather on that special Sunday to root for their favorite team.
This year, Xplor invites you to celebrate Missouri’s superb owls alongside your favorite team members. Let’s find out what makes owls some of nature’s most valuable players.
You might hear this dark-eyed owl hooting its love song in February and March. Listen for the telltale Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all? call in woods near streams, rivers, and swamps. In the winter, it hunts rabbits and other rodents. In summer, it adds frogs, snakes, insects, and even fish to its menu.
These spooky-looking owls have such keen hearing they can pinpoint prey in total darkness. Although they often nest in old barns and grain elevators (which attract tasty mice), they will also nest in tree cavities. To hunt, they cruise over open, grassy areas searching for rodents, birds, reptiles, and even bats.
Northern Saw-Whet Owl
At 8 inches tall, this is Missouri’s smallest owl. It’s also the most nocturnal — you won’t see it during the day. It hunts over open country at night, targeting shrews, bats, small birds, and insects. In March, it migrates to northern forests to make more little saw-whets for next year’s big game.
Owls are night-flying birds of prey. This means they’re predators, and their role in nature is to kill and eat smaller prey animals. Sounds more like a hunger game than a football game, and it is. Plant-eating critters like mice, rabbits, and squirrels have lots of babies several times a year, every year. You can imagine what would happen if there were no owls or other predators to eat them. Prey critters would soon eat up all the seeds, nuts, roots, and plants they could find. Owls help keep nature in balance.
When the “shorty” is curious or alarmed, it will raise earlike tufts — actually spikes of feathers — on either side of its head. It may visit Missouri in winter, but it’s not common. The shorty lives on prairies and in marshes, where it eats voles and mice.
Like the short-eared owl, but with taller “ears” — aka feather spikes. It’s also an uncommon winter visitor. It hunts only at night, but you might spot it snoozing on a pine branch (look for it near the trunk) during the day. It’s also a grassland hunter, searching for mice, rats, and rabbits.
From beak to talon, an owl is geared for offense and defense. Supersized eyeballs in a disc-shaped face and big, cup-shaped ear holes help owls detect prey, even in the dark. With superior sight and hearing, they can guide their spine-crushing talons straight in for the kill. Talk about a touchdown! Their hook-shaped beaks take care of the rest, turning big rabbits into bite-sized bits in no time flat.
This stocky little owl isn’t much bigger than a robin, pointy ear tufts and all. But it’s death on mice, shrews, and even small birds. Blue jays and other songbirds are known to mob screechers during the day, so if you hear birds fussing around a tree, you might have a chance at spotting a sleepy screech-owl. At night, listen for its eerie, trilling call.
Great Horned Owl
This big owl’s “horns” are actually — you guessed it — feather spikes. It has almost no sense of smell, and it is one of the few predators that will catch and eat skunks. Eeew! It courts in late January and February. Listen at night for its call, a deep Hoo-h’HOO, HOO, HOO.
This is a bonus player for the Missouri team. It lives on the Arctic tundra, where it eats lemmings, a kind of small rodent. When lemmings get scarce, the snowy owl heads south. You might spot one sitting atop a fence post, scanning fields and waterways for mice and waterbirds.
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This Issue's Staff
Alexis (AJ) Joyce
Angie Daly Morfeld