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Night visitor

It's always a hoot to see wildlife.

Bob Walters is the DWR's Watchable Wildlife program coordinator. He is an avid birder who loves Utah's amazing wildlife, particularly Salt Lake City's resident peregrine falcons.

It happened again the other night: I fell asleep on the couch and woke up well after midnight. After turning off the TV, I wandered out to the frosty patio and looked around. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something large soar through the air across my backyard.

I craned my neck and finally spotted an unfamiliar blob on top of the fence. By size, I knew it was an owl, but there are four species of large owls normally found in Utah. So which one was it?

Most owls hunt their prey at night, feeding on small mammals, insects and other birds.

Most owls hunt their prey at night, feeding on small mammals, insects and other birds.

Of course, if I approached the owl, it would fly off and there would be no way to clinch the identification. I needed my binoculars and hurried in to grab them from the kitchen.

Not surprisingly, upon my return to the patio, the “blob” was gone. Frustrated, I was forced to conclude that, by size, it was a great horned owl. But I could not make a positive, completely confident identification.

That sighting wasn’t the only time I’ve had to add a question mark to the entry in my field ledger. There have been dozens of occasions when I saw an animal from a distance—or heard about one at a particular location—and arrived only to discover that it was nowhere to be found.

Animals are many things, but they are especially mobile! The ability to fly, leap, dash or swim gives animals an incredible advantage when it comes to finding food or escaping from predators.

Unfortunately, humans aren’t as mobile as the animals we enjoy watching. It’s easy to get frustrated when creatures are there one moment and gone the next. That’s why you should plan to attend one of Utah’s many upcoming Watchable Wildlife program events.

Scheduled throughout the year, these activities are ideal for anyone who loves wildlife. You can see animals you wouldn’t normally find on your own and get a longer, better look at them than I did at the owl from my patio!

I had a good chat with a raven last year when we released a rehabilitated owl into the wild.

I had a good chat with a raven last year when we released a rehabilitated owl into the wild.

5 Responses to Night visitor

  1. This is a great story…I think owls are the neatest of birds. My father was raised in Mt Pleasant Utah and had two owls named Hoot and Poot. He has pictures of them also…But, I have a question about the Peregrine falcons on the web cam. There is one egg left…will it hatch? We were wondering at the office if it should have hatched already because the other two have. Will it survive if it does hatch? Will it be too young to compete for food? We all have this on our computers. We can work too, because we have dual monitors…a necessity for our job.

    Thank you,

  2. Time will tell. But, the interval of time from detection of the second to the third egg was one day more than the interval between numbers one and two. This may mean something and it may not. I’d love to be pleasantly surprised, even though, as you can see, the adults are not paying the egg much, if any, attention. For what it is worth and “off the top”, I believe that in 2007 the fourth egg to hatch showed up two, or even three days after number three hatched.

    I should add that if an eyas hatches out from egg number 3, I believe that it could very well survive and compete successfully with its siblings. Again, in 2007, we had one little guy that was a scrapper – he appeared fearless and would streak in and steal food from the others in the blink of an eye!

    Thanks for your continuing interest and support for the project!

  3. Im from IL and had a barn owl come out of a tree just after dark and pick my hat off my head the hat had a white ball on top like a normal ball cap. The owl held my hat for some time on a low tree branch and looked me up and down. I didnt even bat a eye i stayed dead still. The owl did drop the hat after a long look at it. Why it did it? Its an experience I will never forget.

  4. ^ Owls will happily eat small eggs, thus i think this particular owl thought your hat had an egg on top, and this looked tasty. Glad you got your hat back 🙂

  5. I had owls in my backyard last night. I couldn’t tell what kind because I was out in the hot tub and it was dark. There were 2 smaller ones and a larger one so I am assuming a young family. They didn’t seem scared of me at all as they were very close to the house and practically over the hot tub (in a tree). I love animals, however I do have 2 cats that are indoor outdoor, so i don’t really want the owls hanging around. I know the larger ones are able to get smaller cats/dogs. Is there anything I can do to deter these nighttime visitors from my area?

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