A barred owl made a surprise appearance in broad daylight in downtown Vancouver this week, even stopping to show off its successful kill to passing pedestrians, The Vancouver Sun reports.
Ric Slaco, vice-president and chief forester for Interfor, snapped a photo of the owl Monday at about 1 p.m. outside the Bentall IV building. It appeared to be clutching a pigeon in its talons.
“There were a dozen crows squawking in the tree above,” he added.
Although barred owls have been steadily expanding their range across western North America, it’s still unusual to see one hunting right in the middle of a big city — even though peregrine falcons do it.
Robin Bown, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Tuesday that this is the time of year when owls born in the spring are dispersing in search of available habitat.
“While they are a forest owl, they do move through open landscapes,” she said. “When in this roaming phase, they have to find food when and where they can, and a pigeon would be easy pickings for a hungry owl.”
Barred owls have shown themselves capable of living in wooded city parks, but finding one “sitting in the open during the day is more unusual,” she said.
Barred owls have been so successful they’ve been shot in B.C. and the U.S. Pacific Northwest to limit competition for the endangered northern spotted owl. Barred owls are bigger, more aggressive and have a more varied diet — and can successfully mate with spotted owls.
Owls are normally considered to be nocturnal, but barred owls are known to also hunt in daytime. Ian Blackburn, an expert on barred and spotted owls with the B.C. government, added that barred owls can disperse well over 100 kilometres in search of new habitat.
“They are very adaptable and can live in urban settings provided there are enough green spaces with trees for them to roost and hide during the day and plenty of food to eat, such as rats and pigeons,” he said.
While Blackburn said he has received prior reports of barred owls downtown, what’s rare is to “see an owl foraging in daylight where they are exposed to harassment by birds, such as crows, and possible predation.”
The barred owl call is easily distinguished, sounding like “who cook’s for you?”
Featuring vertical bars on their pale breast feathers, barred owls range from 43 to 61 centimetres in length and 470 to 1,050 grams in weight. The wingspan ranges from one to 1.3 metres. Females are larger than males.