[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Inside
Weather
Santa Clarita CA
Clear
Clear
65°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
October 17
1837 - Trapper Peter LaBeck killed by grizzly bear at El Tejon [story]


Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Feb 7, 2013

evelynevandersande_mugIts blood is used in witchcraft. You will die if one flies over your head. It is a bad omen. It is really a ghost, not a bird.

All of this is superstition – but throughout history, the barn owl has had a spooky reputation.

Its white face and its fixed black eyes staring at you can be intimidating.

Because they often nest in abandoned buildings, I can only imagine the scary situation of finding oneself face-to-face in the dark with a barn owl.

People’s imaginations have run full-speed, fueled by fear and misconception.

Let’s find out a few things about the barn owl. It is a beautiful and striking creature.

It does not have ear tufts, as many owls do, and it has sharp black eyes. The owl cannot move its eyes; it must turn its head to see to the sides or back.

Photos courtesy of Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates

Photos: Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates

It is an owl that does not “hoot.” Rather, the sound it makes is more like a hiss or a shriek. It also clicks its beak loudly when disturbed or nervous.

I once had an interesting adventure: I was walking my dog at night when I heard a clicking sound close by. I thought for a moment it was the sound of a sprinkler going on, when a white bird flew just over my head from the thick conifer it was perched on. A barn owl! It was clicking its beak to tell me to stay away. As I am alive and well, you can drop the superstition right away.

When you see them in flight, the underbelly is quite white, and the male is whiter than the female. The rest of the plumage is a mixture of dark brown, light brown and some yellow.

As you can see, it is a  beautiful bird. The plumage is thick, and it is a good-sized bird (from 12 to 15 inches tall), but it is not heavy. It weight only about a pound. Most of its heft is feathers. The wing span is from 39 to 49 inches.

How do they hunt? Their plumage consists of a lot of down feathers that hide the sound of their flight, so their prey (and you) cannot hear them coming. They catch their prey off guard, scooping it up with sharp talons. They catch mice, squirrels, reptiles and small birds, swallowing them whole.

Barn owls have two stomachs, one for the food they are going to process and another for the food they are going to digest. The digestive juices separate the nutritious food from the stuff they cannot digest, such as bone, fur and nails. The meat goes down into the second stomach, but the stuff they cannot digest gets squeezed into an owl pellet inside the first stomach. The owl spits out the owl pellet and the process starts all over again.

Owl pellets are interesting. When you open one, you can see from the bones and fur what types of animals the owl has been eating. It always makes a good science project for kids and adults.

There is something special about the barn owl and its hunting abilities. This is the only animal in the entire animal kingdom that can catch its prey by sound alone. Experiments have been done in a lab in total darkness where the situation could be monitored.

hopi020413aOwls usually hunt by night. Many owls have ears placed in slightly different positions on each side of their head. They determine which direction the prey is, based upon the time required for the sound to reach each ear. The intensity of the sound tells them the proximity of their prey. If the sound is coming from above, it will seem louder to the ear with the higher opening, so the owl can find its prey easily. If the sound is loud in both ears, the owl knows the prey is right in front of it.

This is an adaptation you will find in many owls, but other types are still not as accurate as the barn owl. The facial dish (the white face) acts as a reflector to channel sounds to its ears, and that helps even more with the barn owl’s hunting ability.

Love story? The barn owl mates for life, but they have a short life span and mate only once or twice. (Both good news and bad news.)

What and where is the nest? They use cavities – in trees and even in abandoned buildings. This is where the barn owl’s name comes from. An old barn was the perfect place for them, because they do not build a nest. They look for a dark and quiet place.

They lay five to seven eggs, with one laid every four to six days. The female incubates the eggs right away, starting when the first egg is laid. That means the eggs will hatch in the same order as they were laid. The first babies will be stronger and larger than the younger ones, so the older ones have a better chance for survival.

The male does most of the hunting and feeding. Mom stays with the babies. The eggs are incubated for 29 to 34 days.

owl020413bThe babies are comical to see when they become “toddlers.” As babies, they are just one big puff of down, fluffy all over. As they grow a bit, they start to develop feathers on their wings and tail and the down recedes – but the down stays thick on top of their head for the longest time. This makes them look like they are wearing a white hat made of down.

Many factors have contributed to the decline of the species, and the change of land use is only one of them. Not so much foraging habitat is left, and there aren’t too many barns around Santa Clarita these days.

If you want a close look at a barn owl, come to the animal show on Saturdays at 1 p.m. at Placerita Canyon Nature Center. There you will meet Catori and learn how she came to the center.

 

Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 27 years. She lives in Newhall.

 

hopi020413b owl020413a owl020413c owl020413d

 

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.

0 Comments

You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment


Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
RECENT COMMENTARY
Tuesday, Oct 10, 2017
It was 10 years ago this fall semester that we opened the Canyon Country Campus on Sierra Highway. We are celebrating a decade of academic excellence and community impact. What a difference a decade makes.
Tuesday, Oct 3, 2017
The Trump budget proposes decreasing funding to the Department of the Interior by $1.5 billion. Trump is calling for more drilling in national parks and monuments. He plans to open BLM land to drilling and fracking.
Tuesday, Oct 3, 2017
We are quickly approaching the culmination of the year-long celebration of our city’s 30th anniversary. It is truly a time to celebrate all the hard work, dedication, perseverance and passion that took our City from being a tiny portion of Los Angeles County to the thriving third largest city in the county.
Tuesday, Oct 3, 2017
This month marks an exciting milestone for the premier arts and entertainment district in Santa Clarita.
Friday, Sep 29, 2017
Kaepernick has never spoken of personally experiencing any negative interactions with the police. Appearances are he had a pretty nice life provided by people with white skin while living in a country that presented him with obvious, mind-boggling opportunities.
Thursday, Sep 28, 2017
Despite its close proximity to the city of Barstow, Rainbow Basin remains virtually undiscovered. It is well worth a visit. Visitors to the area can find scenic opportunities for hiking, rock scrambling, camping, photography, sightseeing and horseback riding.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
1837 - Trapper Peter LaBeck killed by grizzly bear at El Tejon [story]
After 16 years as director of Parks, Recreation and Community Service for the city of Santa Clarita, Rick Gould announced Monday he's retiring in mid-December.
Rick Gould Retires as City’s Parks & Recreation Chief
Tonight on SCV NewsBreak, Governor Brown signed off on a new bill that will change local water retailers distribute water in SCV. Plus, a spicy and savory Saturday for charity. Watch these stories and more on tonight's edition of SCV NewsBreak.
SCV NewsBreak for Monday, October 16, 2017
The Newhall School District's next Regular Board Meeting is Tuesday, October 17 at 6:15 p.m., and consideration of Newhall Family Theater approvals are on the agenda.
Oct. 17: Newhall School District Considers Newhall Family Theater OK
Master’s and Westmont College needed more than 90 minutes again Saturday to settle a Golden State Athletic Conference showdown in Santa Barbara.
Master’s Men Soccer Players Fall to Westmont in OT
Leaders from the CLWA and NCWC will meet in October, November and December to discuss their merger, which creates the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency as of Jan. 1.
Next Step: Water Agency Officials to Share Merger Details
Master’s women soccer players and coaches alike were adamant after Saturday’s top-10 matchup that Westmont’s 5-2 win wasn’t nearly as lopsided as the score suggests.
Westmont Tops Master’s Women’s Soccer 5-2
Although Friday the 13th is a day generally associated with bad luck, CalArts turned the superstition on its ear as the community celebrated the inauguration of its fourth president, Ravi S. Rajan.
CalArts Inaugurates Ravi S. Rajan as Fourth President
CalArts School of Theater faculty Janie Geiser brings her collage film program "Double Vision" to REDCAT in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, Oct. 16 at 8:30 p.m.
Oct 16: ‘Double Vision’: Recent Films by Janie Geiser at REDCAT
The promising signs the Mustangs showed in their Missouri opener paid off in the evening Friday when Master’s women’s volleyball picked up its first road win of the season.
Master’s Rallies on the Road, Nets Season’s First Win
College of the Canyons' women's volleyball team opened Western State Conference play in style, as the Cougars swept visiting West L.A. College in straight sets.
No. 11 Canyons Sweeps West L.A. at the Cougar Cage
Route 66 Classic Grill in Canyon Country will host a fundraiser for local victims of the October 1 Las Vegas shootings on Saturday, October 28, from noon to 4 p.m.
Oct. 28: Route 66 Hosts Benefit for Las Vegas Shooting Victims
A roundup of the Santa Clarita arts-related events for Oct. 16-20, 2017.
Oct. 16-20: Santa Clarita Arts Upcoming Events
The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce's October mixer is set for Wednesday, October 18 at Atria Senior Living in Newhall starting at 5:30 p.m.
Oct. 18: SCV Chamber October Mixer at Atria
The Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley will host a series of "Great Futures" tours for local residents in an effort to get the word out about the club's programs and services.
SCV Boys & Girls Club Hosts ‘Great Futures’ Tours
A special meeting of the Santa Clarita City Council, the Planning Commission, the Parks, Recreation and Communnity Services Commission, the Arts Commission, and the Open Space Preservation District Financial Accountability and Audit Panel is set for Tuesday, October 17 at City Hall.
Oct. 17: Harassment, Abusive Conduct Prevention Training for City Officials
The Hart Indians outscored the Canyon Cowboys 35-18 at Harry Welch Stadium Friday, October 13, in the teams' 50th matchup, and Kevin Karzin, president of the SCV Photographers Association, contributed photos from the game.
Photo Gallery: Hart Indians Beat Canyon Cowboys 35-18
Gov. Brown has vetoed a President Donald Trump-inspired proposal that would have required presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the statewide ballot.
Brown Vetoes Bill Requiring Candidates Release Tax Returns
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a series of bills on Sunday calling for criminal justice reforms, including reduction of penalties for some gun and drug crimes and changes to the Megan's Law sex offender registry.
Brown Signs Bills for Criminal Justice Reforms
1853 - Sarah Gifford, community leader and wife of Newhall's first railroad station agent, born in England [story]
With the stroke of his pen Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated the Castaic Lake Water Agency and Newhall County Water District and replaced them with a new water agency for the Santa Clarita Valley.
Brown Signs Wilk Bill Merging SCV Water Agencies
1939 - Second, larger OLPH Catholic Church dedicated on site of first (10th & Walnut, Newhall) [story]
Santa Clarita-based Princess Cruises celebrated the New York premiere of “Born to Dance,” the latest offering from its first-of-its-kind partnership with award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz and famed director/creator Daniel C. Levine.
Princess Cruises Celebrates NY Premiere of ‘Born to Dance’ With Schwartz, Levine
1980 - Phillies beat Royals in Game 1 of World Series; Hart grad Bob Walk is winning pitcher [story]
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored 17 student winners from colleges and universities around the world at the 44th Student Academy Awards ceremony in Beverly Hills Thursday night.
Medalists Revealed at 2017 Student Academy Awards
The Los Angeles Dodgers will play host to the Chicago Cubs in Game 1 of the 2017 NLCS at Dodger Stadium on Saturday starting at 5:08 p.m.
National League Championships Open at Dodger Stadium Saturday
Santa Clarita ranks No. 5 among Los Angeles County's 88 cities in the assessed value of all taxable real property and business personal property, according to the 2017 Annual Report released by County Assessor Jeffrey Prang today.
Santa Clarita No. 5 Highest Valued City in LA County
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and a coalition of other law enforcement agencies and community organizations will host the 9th Annual Cyber Crime Prevention Symposium in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, October 16 from 8:25 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.
Oct. 16: Cyber Crime Symposium for Educators, Parents, Students
Tonight on SCV NewsBreak, locals found out what it is like to be a school principal. Plus, there are some great events to head out to this weekend. Watch these stories and more on tonight's edition of SCV NewsBreak.
SCV NewsBreak for Friday, October 13, 2017
Starting Monday night, Oct. 16, the California Department of Transportation will paint new temporary lanes on a section of Interstate 5 aka the Golden State Freeway in and near the city of Santa Clarita.
New Temporary Lanes Coming Monday on Interstate 5 in SCV
The William S. Hart Union High School District is looking for someone to become a personnel commissioner to serve a three-year term beginning December 1, 2017.
Hart District Seeks Personnel Commissioner for Classified Employees
The College of the Canyons baseball program and Playa Vista Orioles youth baseball organization will host a free instructional clinic for players ages 11-14 at COC's Cougar Field in Valencia on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Oct. 21: COC Baseball, Playa Vista Orioles Youth Classic
An alumna of the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley, Cinthya Medrano, is the first recipient of a Duane R. Harte Memorial Scholarship.
Cinthya Medrano Earns First Duane R. Harte Memorial Scholarship
The non-profit Santa Clarita Coalition has created a Facebook page to aid the Evans family after the mother of six children died in a car crash on Golden Valley Road.
Facebook Page Created to Aid Evans Family
The Golden State Gateway Coalition, a non-profit transportation education and advocacy organization based in Santa Clarita, has published the fall 2017 edition of its newsletter, "Interchange."
Golden State Gateway Coalition Issues Fall 2017 Newsletter
The Castaic Lake Water Agency's Budget and Rates Committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, October 17 at 5:30 p.m.
Oct. 17: CLWA Budget and Rates Committee Meeting