Friday afternoon in Central Park wasn’t just magical because of the glorious fall weather. There were two different types of owls perched in the Ramble within 100 feet of each other and the lucky birders who were on hand were beyond thrilled (especially me). Central Park has been hosting a Great Horned Owl for almost one year now in the Loch in the northern end of the park. Recently, another Great Horned Owl appeared in the Ramble. (How do we know it’s a different owl? The long-time northern resident, nicknamed Geraldine, has an injured foot and the new one, still unnamed, has injury-free talons.)
A crowd was gathered near Azalea Pond in the Ramble on Friday afternoon gazing adoringly at the new Great Horned Owl framed by the lovely fall foliage when word started to spread that a Barred Owl had been briefly spotted near the feeders. After the Barred Owl flew away, a small group of birders combed the woods to locate the owl, listening carefully for the sound of blue jays and crows “mobbing” the bird to chase it away and also to warn other birds of this apex predator’s presence.
Barred Owls are no stranger to Central Park, but it has been about 15 months since the sad passing of our beloved Barry the Barred Owl, who lived in a hemlock tree in the Ramble near the Boathouse for almost one year. Barry was especially accommodating to her many daily admirers and, after she passed away, a memorial was actually held for her because she had such a fan following.
Barred Owls (aka Hoot Owls) are a relatively large North American owl species with a distinctive call that sounds like “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” They are gentle-looking, with large brown eyes in their round faces and small, bright yellow beaks. Females are larger than males, generally about 16″-20” in height and 38″–49” in wingspan. They eat mostly small mammals and are adorable in appearance and behavior (almost feline when grooming).
Great Horned Owls are slightly larger in height (17″-25”) and wingspan (48” average), but weigh almost twice as much as Barred Owls. Their “horns” are actually feather tufts known as “plumicorns”, which help give this species a somewhat fierce appearance. The GHO is a silent predator that can apply a terrifying 300 pounds per square inch of pressure on prey with their talons. Thanks to their coloration, they are also known as the Tiger Owl. Not entirely nocturnal, they mostly sleep during the day — unless disturbed by other birds or helicopters and sirens.
Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls are two very common species and must co-exist, even though the GHO is the greatest natural enemy of the Barred Owl, which is what made their proximity such a surprise on Friday. If a territorial squabble were to occur, the GHO would dominate and the Barred Owl would relocate, but the weather was so lovely that all seemed fine. That is, until the fireworks at 6:30PM on Friday above the nearby Lake to celebrate the 51st NYC Marathon, which seemed to scare off both birds. Neither owl was spotted in the Ramble on Saturday, although birders were delighted to find them both back in the Ramble on Sunday.
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