Lincoln Park Barred Owls

(This is a guest post from Chuck Pell, who has observed the barred owls in Lincoln Park for many years. Click on the pictures to view larger versions)

The Lincoln Park Barred Owls first came to my attention on a January afternoon in 2004 when my wife Miho and I were walking in the park.  After hearing the “WHO COOKS FOR YOU” call we saw one owl perched and another flying. Then we see one owl perched and another flying.  We followed them as they flew further south in diminishing light, making short flights from tree to tree.

They appeared to be making a squeaking sound and chasing small birds.  This I did not expect.  I blithely assumed they would just eat rodents, but I recalled that looking through pellets from Barn Owls I had once found a Flicker head.  We continued to follow the owls and verified that they were making the strange squeaking sound and chasing birds.  Could this call be intended to decoy the small prey? After returning home, I consulted North American Birds of Prey by Alexander Sprunt, Jr, 1955, and found this quote:

This owl, like many others, can see perfectly well in daylight. The hearing is very keen, the slightest rustle being instantly noted. On numerous occasions this owl has flown close over my head (sometimes all but touching it) while uttering the “squeak” (kissing the back of the hand), a sound intended to attract birds.

We continued to see the owls in the park from time to time, but then 2009 was the year when a lot of people got to experience their breeding season in Lincoln Park.  We had been seeing a lot of activity for some time, with one owl maintaining a perch in one of the big Redwood trees at the Fauntleroy end of the main east-west trail from the north parking lot to the bluff.  One day I saw an owl carrying food into the crotch in one of the trees.  Aha, the nest.

A few days later I heard that someone had found an owlet on the ground and had carried it to the park headquarters.

The next day during my walk I came upon two park people with a cherry picker trying to put the chick up in a tree.  I showed them where the nest tree was, but their machine couldn’t reach the crotch.  They left it on a branch below the crotch from which it soon fell.  Short time later they came back with a little platform.

Strangely enough the chick remained on the platform for over a week while the mother fed it.  This was enough time for it to survive and get around the area by hopping and eventually learning to fly.

The last time I saw the chick it was sitting on a branch some distance from the tree hissing at me.

That winter I concluded that Barred Owls are lousy nest builders. I found plans for a nest box on the Internet and built a nice one out of cedar boards. Phil Renfrow of the Lincoln Park Administration graciously arranged for the cherry picker to come back and put the box up where the platform had been.

To our delight the owls occupied the box every year thereafter, but it took them until 2017 to get another chick out the door:

The box is located in plain view just south of the intersection of trails #3 and #6, north of the main parking lot and less than a half block west of Fauntleroy Ave.

All pictures © Chuck Pell

Chuck Pell, taking a picture of the 2017 chick. Photo: Mark Ahlness

Miho and Chuck Pell have lived in the Lincoln Park neighborhood since the late 1960s and have enjoyed observing the park’s wildlife over those many years.  Although encroaching age has made travel to seek out birds around the country and the world less frequent in recent years, they still maintain a pretty good schedule of daily walks over the park’s diverse landscape.  Some photographic records of their local activities and other travels can be found on the Flickr site:

More photo collections of the Barred Owls in Lincoln Park:

2 thoughts on “Lincoln Park Barred Owls

  1. Great story and photos – and thanks to the Pells for helping the owls! I only wish the owls would focus more on eating mice than little birds! Oh, well, that’s nature.

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