Allan Bell’s Birch Bark Nature Notes Revisited

Isn’t it great to hear the crows again, see goldeneyes sitting on the river and red and gray squirrels hunting for food?


Birds still hitting your windows? Try hanging strings from the eaves or the top of the window frame. A black paper silhouette of a kestrel (sparrow hawk) with about a 15-inch wingspan is taped to the inside of my windows. It is head down and appears to be diving. Will it work? We’ll see.


I’ve had three owl sightings reported to me. Hopefully, one or more may turn out to be the scarce great gray owl which researcher Don Follen is looking for.

I realize how difficult it is to make positive identifications and especially to compare size and markings when only one bird is seen. We’ll just have to do the best we can. Here are a few details about barred and great gray owls.

Both of them have rounded heads with NO ear tufts like great horned owls have. The great gray is much larger than a barred, with a wingspan of almost five feet. Hidden under all those feathers is a small body weighing only about three pounds.

The barred owl has brown eyes, the great gray has yellow eyes. The great gray appears to have an oversize head, with its belly heavily striped lengthwise (vertically when perched). It has a black chin spot bordered by two white patches resembling a white mustache. The call is whoo-oo-hoo. Got that?

The barred owl has horizontal bars across the chest, then the belly is streaked lengthwise (vertically when perched). Its call is longer, usually eight notes, something like hoohoo-hoohoo, hoohoo-hoohooaw. It sounds much like “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all.” Honest.

Take a night walk. Look up and see all those tiny lights winking at you. Ponder the fact that they are all far larger than our sun. Maybe you’ll be lucky and hear an owl hoot. Screech. Hiss. Whistle. Wail. Whinny. Many of the species of owls don’t sound anything like we think they ought to.

I would be delighted to hear of any of your owl sightings or experiences.

Owls eat rats, mice, meadow voles, shrews, beetles, crickets, crayfish, frogs, earthworms, snakes, fish, birds, rabbits, skunks, and more. They have been called nature’s flying rat traps. The usefulness of owls in destroying rodents far outweighs any injury they may cause to birds or game.

At one time some hunting clubs attempted to increase game by eliminating great horned owls. The reduction of owls resulted in a rapid increase in the skunk population and other fast-multiplying rodents which feasted on the eggs and young of game birds. The results were exactly the opposite of the hunter’s intent.

Inter-relationships are complex. Better we let nature take its course!

Late nature writer Allan Bell wrote this Birch Bark Nature Notes column for the Tomahawk Leader back on Feb. 22, 1984. In revisiting some of his masterful insight into this beautiful place we are all so fortunate enough to call home, an owl sighting certainly is something that is a real joy. And anything that helps keep the mice and mosquito population in the summer is certainly a welcome friend in our neck of the woods.

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