Monday, February 11, 2013

Boreal Owl

Boreal Owls inhabit spruce forests from Alaska and across Canada to the Atlantic. Scattered populations are also found in the Rocky Mountains, from the Pacific Northwest to northern New Mexico. The owls are also found across Siberia to northern Europe. In Minnesota, as in other areas of the United States, they are restricted to the far north.
They show irruptive cycles in Minnesota. They very rarely breed in the state, and then usually only after invasion years. These influxes appear to be caused by cycles in vole populations and or heavy snow cover. Females (which are the larger of the sexes) tend to wander further than do males. Males may remain in breeding territories to guard their nest-holes. Many Minnesota birders predicted a Boreal Owl invasion would occur this winter. All was quiet on state listservs until about three weeks ago, when dozens of owls began to be reported along Lake Superior north of Duluth.
Friday morning Erika and I slowly drove up the North Shore from Duluth to Two Harbors. Lake effect snow fell. We drove very slowly as we searched for owls. The problem was that, never having seen a Boreal Owl, we had a poor search image. We expected a bigger bird than a saw-whet owl, but, in fact, Boreals are only marginally larger birds. Some female saw-whets are as large as some small male Boreals. We also did not know where to look for them--deep within the spruces? On the tree tops? We saw nothing all the way up the lake, enjoyed lunch, and headed back towards Duluth. We were not optimistic.
We took a back road before coming out to the highway. We were warned in a listserv posting by local birder Sparky Stensaas "Note that looking for parked cars, birders, and just as effective as looking for tiny owls!" At the highway, I looked right--nothing. I looked left, to see a line of about a half-dozen cars parked on the side of the highway. "Birders!" identified Erika, "I see scopes!" We pulled up and asked "Do you have an owl?" "Yes, right in front of us, at the tip of the closest spruce bough!" We photographed this bird for about ten minutes. The owl appeared to be actively searching for prey, as the bird repeatedly looked to the left and right.


  1. What a beautiful little creature. No wonder people are flocking to see them from all over the country.

  2. Captivating photos. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Congratulations, Dan! Wonderful photos, too. Such neat looking little owls...