Raptor experts ask observers not to disturb owl | Community Spirit
Humane Society encourages watchers to keep distance
Since a rare owl was spotted last week in Middleton, curious watchers and birders from near and far have stopped by to get a peek at it.
Clarence "Owl Man" Cameron, a Madison artist who's been sculpting owls for 46 years, said the normally rarely seen great grey is characterized by its deceptively large head, which is mostly plumage.
"Their heads are actually rather small, [what you see] is just about all feathers," Cameron said.
Dane County Humane Society’s Four Lakes Wildlife Center, a wildlife rehabilitation program, has been monitoring the great grey owl in Middleton. Wildlife Center representatives said keeping distance is for the better wellness of the bird.
Brooke Lewis, wildlife rehab supervisor with DCHS, said the great grey will eventually need to return back north, which will require peak health.
"In order to make the return flight north, when he decides to go, he will need to be strong and in good condition," Lewis said. "Approaching the owl too closely will cause him increased stress, which can negatively affect his health."
Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Andy Paulios said birds found far from their native regions are likely already stressed from a long flight, unfamiliar surroundings and a late winter. Paulios agreed that space is important for the great grey in Middleton.
"We share people’s excitement about the chance to see these birds but encourage people to make sure to give the birds a reasonable space and to never attempt to pet or hold them," Paulios said.
Another issue crowds present is potentially inhibiting the owl from hunting as often as it needs to, DCHS said. Unlike many of the other owl species in Wisconsin, great greys normally spend time hunting during the day.
It is common for the bird to seem unbothered by human presence and the owl may not react as you get closer. But DCHS staff said though the owl may seem unaffected by the presence of watchers, it may cause stress nonetheless, which would have a detrimental effect on the great grey’s health.
Wildlife rehab staff offered tips to watch the raptor safely:
- View the owl from at least 25 yards (about the length of a basketball-court)
- Don't climb trees near the owl
- Don't try to touch it
- Don't try to feed the bird
- Don't make efforts to make the owl fly
- Do use binoculars and spotting scopes for a closer view
- Do use telephoto and zoom camera lenses to photograph the owl
- Keep voices low and avoid making loud noises
- If your presence is causing the owl to change his behavior in any way, you are too close
DCHS said the great grey owl is most commonly found in Canadian forests.
When birds migrate to areas outside of their normal range, as the great grey in Middleton did, the migration is called an "irruption," normally caused by scarcity of food in their home range. The great grey’s visit is likely due to the same reason, as was the case two years ago in Dane County with snowy owls, DCHS said.
The state DNR said if a resident is concerned the bird may be ill or injured, contact a local rehabilitator for professional assistance. A directory is available using the keyword "rehab" at dnr.wi.gov.