Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Night visitor

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.

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.