Country Owls Better Suited to the Suburbs?

Anne Casselman
for National Geographic News
October 19, 2007

For barred owls, suburban Charlotte, North Carolina, might as well be an ancient grove of trees.

At least that's the way it seems to a local ornithologist, who found that his city is saturated with the foot-and-a-half-tall (half-a-meter-tall) nocturnal predators, which have been long thought to thrive only in old-growth forests.

"I had read somewhere that barred owls need large tracks of old-growth forest to survive, but that didn't make sense," said Rob Bierregaard at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

"Turns out you can't swing a dead rat in suburban Charlotte without hitting a barred owl."

He and his graduate students have been studying the city's owls Since 2001. The research is ongoing, but the team is already making some significant finds about the birds' adaptibility.

"My guess is that as we get more data, we're going to find that the city birds are even doing better than the country birds," Bierregaard said.

Martha Desmond is an ornithologist at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces who is not involved in Bierregaard's work.

She said that the study is the first time she's heard of an urban population of these owls—but she's not surprised.

"If they're generalists and they can occupy different habitat types," she said, "they go where the prey is."

Breeding Pairs

Barred owls are usually found in dense forests across North America. They feed on most things that come their way, from small mammals and birds to fish and small reptiles.

The birds favor older forests, because they rely on larger trees that have suitably sized holes to nest in.

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