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Hawks and owls in the snow

When it comes to finding food, even the strongest birds of prey have a tough time in winters with lots of snow. Why? Rodents, which are the preferred food for these birds, are, by and large, tunneled under the snow.

It’s warmer down there, and they can forage for nuts and grains out of harm’s way.

Hawks can sometimes switch over to birds for food — if they are fast enough to catch them. As a result, you may be seeing some increased hawk activity at your bird feeder.

Owls, on the other hand, tend to hunt at night. Smaller birds are hunkered down and out of sight, leaving rodents as the only food option, especially for the smaller owls. In winters such as the one we’re experiencing this year, people often find birds of prey, particularly owls, that are either emaciated or that have been hit by cars.

Car hits are fairly common at this time of year, as the rodents that are not happily using their tunnels under the snow, use the plowed roads as a means to get around and to forage for food. Consequently, owls (and hawks) use the roads to hunt and sometimes get hit by cars as a result. It is awfully hard to avoid an owl that appears out of the darkness from nowhere.

The wildlife rehabilitation facility here at the Audubon Center has been busy this winter taking care of injured hawks and owls, particularly red-tailed hawks, eastern screech owls and barred owls.

The barred owl that was shown in the Feb. 17 Lakeville Journal was rescued from a farm in Sharon. The caller indicated that the owl was unable to sustain flight and had been in the area for some time. When volunteer Michael Hopkins and I arrived, the owl had moved quite a distance from the house, being blown farther and farther away by the wind. After catching it, we brought it back for inspection. It was under-weight, dehydrated and exhausted but did not have any physical injuries.

A week later, after rehydration, medical care and rest, the owl is recuperating nicely and we hope to release it as soon as the snow dissipates and there is an ample natural food supply.

The Sharon Audubon Center provides the wildlife rehabilitation program as a service to the community and to our area wildlife. If you should find an injured bird or animal, you can call us at the Sharon Audubon Center and we will help evaluate the situation and come up with the best solution.

You can also call the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection dispatch number at 860-424-3333 and they can give you the name of another local licensed wildlife rehabilitator.


Scott Heth is the director of Audubon Sharon and can be reached at sheth@audubon.org, (subject line: Nature Notes).

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