Readers’ wildlife photos

December 6, 2021 • 8:00 am

Do send in your photos if you have good ones. Today’s batch contains recent owl-related photos taken just recently by Paul Matthews in Canada. Paul’s notes are indented, and you can enlarge his pictures by clicking on them.

These photos were taken in the Ottawa area in Canada. The first series is from November 20, 2021, and the second (boreal owls) from December 5, 2021.

With winter on the doorstep, my first encounter of the season of a Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) was a memorable one. The presence of an owl usually greatly upsets the other birds in the vicinity, who will surround the owl in an aggrieved, even hysterical group, calling insistently (a behaviour known as mobbing). I don’t think mobbing is well understood. It often seems rather ineffectual, as the wise owl (see what I did there?) will simply wait out the harassment till its tormentors lose interest and go back to their normal activities. That said, a small to medium-sized owl being mobbed by little rather powerless passerines is one thing, and a medium to large owl being mobbed by ferocious corvids (crows and ravens) quite another. While I’ve never seen a corvid actually strike an owl during mobbing, the dive-bombing and other mock attacks within centimetres of an owl’s head must be very unsettling.

This snowy owl was also mobbed by Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis), American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and one Common Raven (Corvus corax). The raven really got in the owl’s face. Ravens are large birds with quite an imposing bill (compare with the smaller-billed crow in the background of one of the photos), but snowy owls are the heaviest North American species of owl and have rather fearsome weaponry. I really wondered whether the raven knew what it was doing but, as I returned to my car, I noticed it flying away, apparently unscathed. The owl, by the way, is likely a young female given the extensive barring. As with all owls, female snowies are larger than males. By the way, there is a mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) in one of the photos. Can you spot it?

As lagniappe (a word I learned from WEIT), I offer another winter owl, much smaller than the snowy: a Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus). This is the least frequently encountered of our regular owls, much sought, and I hadn’t seen one in several years. It tends to be very well hidden. If you’ve been paying attention you can probably guess how it was discovered: yes, it was being mobbed (by chickadees).

Did you spot the raven?

13 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Beautiful pictures. Was the boreal standing on the side of the tree? The raven is impressive. Was the snowy about to fly off? It appears she had a wing away from her body. Enviable opportunity. Thank you for these.

    1. Thanks. The boreal owl was perched right next to the trunk, presumably to blend in better. In fact it spent most of its time while I was there with its face turned towards the trunk, with only the back of its head visible, making it even more cryptic. If you looked away it was hard to relocate, even though you thought you knew where it was!

      The snowy owl was not about to fly off. A couple of times it spread its wings to try to intimidate the raven, but sadly I didn’t get good shots of that behaviour. It was in fact the raven that left first, but I was walking back to the car when I saw it fly by, so I don’t know whether the owl did something to make it go. The crows were still dive-bombing the owl, though, and I decided at that point that I’d had enough of it. I managed to scare off the crows without disturbing the owl, to give it some peace.

  2. Beautiful pictures indeed! Some of my favorite birds, counting the raven and the crows.

    Maybe the raven asked the owl, “Do crows have more pinion feathers than ravens?” and wanted the owl to reply, “It may be the same, but never more.” But the owl didn’t get the joke, and the raven flew off in frustration.

  3. Thank you so much for the absolutely photos and interesting and informative explanations. I really enjoyed it! And learned something!

  4. Amazing interactions . . . reminding me that humans aren’t the only ones who get in each other’s faces.

    I’ve rarely been able to photograph owls even though I’ve spotted a few flying around (get it? Spotted? … nevermind).

    My best photos (and those are not that great) are of a rarely sighted Pueo owl on The Big Island of Hawaiʻi.

  5. Those are two beautiful owls…and I saw the blurry mallard drake. Around where I live in the NW, it’s usually Steller’s jays that do the mobbing.

    1. Not in North America.

      Ravens are larger than crows and have a distinctively differently shaped bill. There are, I’m sure, other differences too. I find the shape of the bill and the head are the easiest field marks to distinguish them (assuming I don’t hear them calling).

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