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Parliament is in Session

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No, this isn’t about our politicians at Queens Park or in Ottawa. “Parliament” is the collective name of a group of owls, in this case a parliament of Short-eared Owls. 

Each January, I join another photographer for a three-day winter trip to photograph wildlife. This year we decided to check out Amherst Island near Kingston. My main goal on this excursion was to improve my portfolio of Short-eared Owls fully aware that it would be like looking for a “needle in a haystack.” As luck would have it, we found our owls. The not so good news was the weather, consisting of heavy snow accompanied by a brisk wind reducing visibility and lighting. 

The Short-eared Owl is a grassland species hunting in open fields during the day, usually early in the morning and later on in the afternoon. As they hunted, it gave me an opportunity to photograph them in their natural habitat during a winter storm. There were about a dozen owls hunting at any given time, impossible to include all of them in one photo, but if you look closely at the second photo below, you should be able to see four of them, two flying and two on the ground.

Short-eared owls are medium in size, with a big head, short neck, large eyes, and unusually broad wings. The name “short-eared” comes from the tufts of feathers resembling ears. The tufts are usually only visible if the owl is excited or alert often when perched on a fence post or resting on the ground. 

Owl on fence
Perched

The real ears on these owls are asymmetrical with one opening higher up on the head which helps them better triangulate sounds. This function along with their excellent eyesight and superb flying skills helps them find prey much easier. Their long wings give them the ability to maneuver quickly and suddenly drop to the ground to pounce on their prey consisting mostly of mice, voles, and shrews.

Just in front of the open field was a smaller field loaded with abandoned farm machinery and logs. The owls were using this area to hunker down and shelter from the elements. Although the owls were closer, it was difficult to get a decent composition. By cropping some of the distracting trash out of images during post processing, I found a couple that I thought turned out ok. 

As a bonus, there were a few Northern Harriers hunting along with the Short-eared owls. Northern Harriers have a similar hunting style and consume the same prey. Both species are excellent hunters though Short-eared Owls tend to be more efficient by maneuvering much more effectively in the air. Although Northern Harriers occasionally prey on Short-eared owls, they resort to a better strategy, theft. Why prey on an owl when you can simply steal its food.

Note: If you are interested in purchasing any of Gary’s photography you will find his contact information on the right sidebar.

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