Peterborough-based naturalist and author Drew Monkman said there has been an increase in owls in southern Ontario this winter.
“What we are noticing this year is that there are really more owls around than usual,” he said. “We are seeing about six different species of owls.”
Those species include the screech and great horned owl, which are here all year round, as well as the snowy, saw-whet, short-eared and barred.
“We are especially seeing more barred owls,” Monkman said. “They are turning up all over the place.”
Monkman added some of of the Barred owls will stay in the region.
So why the increase? Monkman said it comes down to food.
“There is most likely a lack of food further north, but lots of food here,” he said. “They like to eat meadow voles and shrews and the reason the rodent numbers are high is because the seeds that they depend on have been abundant in the last few years.”
He also said it seems to have been a successful reproductive season and when that happens, many younger owls are pushed further south for food and territory.
He said if you’re looking to spot a barred owl, you may see one perched by the roadside.
“If you want to see owls, go out in the early morning and again in the evening and drive down backroads,” he said. “Keep an eye on the telephone poles or wires and you might see a barred owl.”
And while some owls are nocturnal, you’ll be able to spot barred owls out during the day (most often dawn and dusk) and snowy owls are also diurnal, meaning they are active during the day.
Monkman said if you see an owl it is important to be respectful.
He said to keep your distance and never attempt to spook the bird, forcing it to fly or bait the owl to get a photograph.
“Best practice is to simply stay in the car or get out and stand beside it. If the owl is very close to the side of the road, however, I don’t think you should even get out,” he said.
Monkman said birding has become more popular during the pandemic, with people looking for things to do outdoors.
“To come across an owl when you’re out and about is really a thrill,” he said. “It is just exciting to come across such a beautiful bird.”
And while many of the owls will be moving on after winter, other species of birds will be making their way to the region for spring.