Barred owl

A barred owl at the Lowry Nature Center in Victoria.

As gorgeous creatures and fierce hunters, owls are some of the most awe-inspiring animals in the region.

There are countless reasons to appreciate owls, including their elusiveness, unique characteristics and ecological significance as a top predator.

Although they often times remain well-camouflaged, these birds of prey can be found living in suburban neighborhoods, as well as parks.

Two of the most common owls in eastern Carver County are great horned owls and barred owls.

Barred owls breed in Minnesota in the summertime and great horned owls are adaptable to many different habitats. Both of these species are found year-round in deciduous forests, are active at dawn and dusk, and stand 17-25 inches tall when perched. However, a barred owl has a round head, while a great horned owl has large feathery tufts.

Less common but still present in the area, eastern screech owls and northern saw-whet owls can also be seen or heard on rare occasions. These two species are only a mere 6-10 inches tall.

Owls have many traits and characteristics that allow them to be exceptional hunters when searching for small rodents, reptiles, and songbirds. Their hearing in particular, is exquisite. One of their ears, hidden beneath their facial feathers, is slightly higher than the other, allowing owls to better triangulate the position of a sound. They also have the ability to fly silently thanks to serrated edges at the end of some of their feathers.

Most owls can see much better than we as humans can. This is due to the sheer size of their eyes, which take up about a third of their skull, as well as a multitude of photoreceptors (rods) that allow an owl to have better vision at night. This is of course in addition to being able to turn their head up to 270 degrees without moving other parts of their body.

When looking and listening for owls this summer, please remember proper wildlife viewing etiquette, including giving the bird and its nest plenty of space, keeping distractions such as loud noises to a minimum, and being considerate of others.

The Lowry Nature Center is home to a rehabilitated barred owl, who serves as an animal ambassador and is viewable near the visitor center from sunrise to sunset.

Interested in learning more? Stop by the Lowry Nature Center on Sundays in June from 1-3 p.m. to talk with a naturalist at Nature Center without Walls, a new event featuring outdoor displays and free exploration activities.

Josh Sweet is an office support assistant with the Lowry Nature Center. He can be reached with questions at Take 5 for Nature is a quarterly column from staff at the Lowry Nature Center, part of Three Rivers Park District, located in Victoria. The column aims to provide readers with information about what is taking place in the natural world around us.