The Evolving Habitat of Barred Owls
Article by Niko Hajimihalis
As I walk through downtown Clemson after a long night in the library, I hear eight distinctive hoots from the tree above that harmonize into what almost sounds like the phrase, “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all.” Puzzled at first, I look up into the trees and catch a glimpse of the bird who is making the unique noise. This mottled brown-gray bird with horizontal streaks running up and down its body looks out of place in an area that is better known for its lively student nightlife than wildlife resources. Yet here I stand, making eye contact with this beautiful barred owl.
Marion Clement, a graduate student in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation, is leading the Barred Owls in an Urban to Forest Landscape Gradient Creative Inquiry project to determine why these forest-dwelling birds now inhabit our neighborhoods. The undergraduates participating in this project are learning important skills in the field of wildlife ecology. “We have been collecting data from urban and rural populations in order to check owl densities,” Kirsten Brown, an environmental and natural resources major, says.
In the first phase of the project team members spent long nights in the field conducting audio surveys to find where owls were located. They started by playing owl calls and listening for responses. Once owls were found, the team used mice to bait the owls in order to catch them and fit them with tracking devices. Global Positioning System (GPS) telemetry devices were placed on the backs of the owls in order to track their movement. Determining the locations of the owls allowed the team to identify each owl’s home range as well as compare the foraging patterns of urban, suburban and forest dwelling owls.