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This Week’s Creature Feature: Ho, Ho, Hoot?

’Tis the season for owls

A northern saw-whet owl is measured and banded before being released back into the wild.
     Santa’s not the only flyer of the December night skies. ‘Tis also the season for owls.
     Most owls are hard to see, so we usually only hear them. But once the leaves fall, it’s a little easier to catch a glimpse of these secretive night hunters. 
It’s easy to recognize great horned owls, with their pointy tuffs and large fluffy bodies. They are also quite vocal during pair-bonding rituals, often engaging in territorial hooting duets. 
     The great horned owls, our largest owls, nest at the start of winter to have plenty of time to raise big birds before the next winter begins. They often use an abandoned nest to set up housekeeping. The nest will be reused year after year until it falls apart.
     You can watch a bit of great horned family life thanks to a great horned owl cam with the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center in Grasonville. 
     A pair of great horned owls fledged chicks on an artificial nest last year and, as is typical among the species, stayed on after the juveniles moved away. This year the Center hopes to record both post-breeding behavior and owlet rearing.
The web cam should be up by January: www.bayrestoration.org.
     These owls are not the only seasonal visitors to Chesapeake Country. 
Seven northern saw-whet owls have been caught and tagged in nets since tagging began last month, volunteer coordinator Alison Cawood reports. Each series of six nets is strung between evergreen trees at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater. The owls are caught and taken indoors for their checkups.
     This year’s migration of northern saw-whets has been one of the lightest on record, according to Calvert County senior naturalist Andy Brown,
    Join head researcher Melissa Acuti for a brown bag lunch at noon, Tuesday December 19 at the Schmidt Center on SERC's campus. 
      Snowy owls are expected in greater number this winter, bird experts predict. Sightings have been recorded at Poplar Island and at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Track these big white birds at Project SNOWstorm: www.projectsnowstorm.org.