By Debbie Dakin
Montauk Park Naturalist Steven Bost did a presentation “Owls – Supreme Hunters of the Night” in front of the Naturalist’s Office on Friday afternoon, June 30.
“We basically have 4 species of owls that reside in our area,” Bost informed the audience. “The great horned owl is the most fearsome predator of the night. They are fearless and will even kill and eat barred owls. The barred owl, screech owl and barn owl round out our area’s native owls.”
Bost compared the owl’s adaptations to magic. One of their unique adaptations is their ability to turn their heads almost completely around. This is because owls have 14 vertebrae in their necks while we humans have only 7, These extra vertebrae gives them much more flexibility.
Another great adaptation is their vision. Tests have been done to see just how powerful an owl’s vision is. It is incredible! Owls have more rods than cones making their night vision something to be amazed about.
“If an owl was flying over a baseball stadium,” explained Bost, “not only could he see in the dugout, but he could see the clipboard hanging on the wall and see the names printed on it.”
Owls have 3-dimensional hearing. One of their ears (which are under their feathers and you cannot see) is slightly forward of the other ear. You might see one moving its head around, this is to pinpoint what they are hearing. An owl’s hearing is so strong they can be flying 20 feet up in the air over land with one or two inches of snow and still hear a mouse under that snow.
Perhaps one of the owl’s most helpful characteristics is its silent flight. Their soft wing feathers are fringed on the edge. This breaks up sound and gives them the ability to attack their prey without ever being heard. Bost called them the stealth fighters of nature. They fly straight in and grab their prey.
Bost is the perfect person to talk about owls. He has raised a total of 9 screech owls and others. As he pointed out, the only way he can do that is by getting a permit from the World Bird Sanctuary. Otherwise, it is strictly against the law to have a live owl, stuffed owl or even an owl feather without this permit.
“I only raise owls or animals that are sure not to make it without my intervention,” said Bost. “Then I work to rehabilitate them back into nature. I had three screech owls that were found here in the park when a tree blew over. One died from head trauma but the others would have died if I wouldn’t have cared for them. But the last couple of weeks I was spending $40 to $50 a week buying mice for them.”
It was surprising to learn that owls are actually an affectionate bird. They like to have their cheeks rubbed and they will groom their fellow owls. Bost does an amazing of imitating their calls, as each species have distinctive calls.
Bost was talking about calling in a screech owl at a night time presentation. The screech owl came, but to everyone’s amazement, a great horned owl swooped in and grabbed the screech owl right in front of everyone. He noted that it was rather traumatic for those present and they don’t do it any more.
Following the owl presentation, visitors were allowed to go in the Naturalist Office and see the collection of local snakes and spiders living there as well as a large collection of local animal pelts that visitors were encouraged to touch.
It was a fun and informative presentation. These presentations are a great way to keep youngsters learning while out on summer break. And it’s so much fun they won’t even realize it!