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Who's your neighbor: Owl numbers grow locally



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April 17, 2013 - Look "who" moved in next door.

A family of great horned owls, which includes a pair of owlets, has found a home in a wooded area just south of Goodrich. Locally, the top of the food chain predators are becoming very common, say biologists.

Julie Oakes, Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist from southeastern region, said the great horned owls have the right environment to thrive.

"The fact that they are nesting in this area means there is enough open habitat for hunting,"she said. "There is also available prey to eat, as well as wooded areas to nest without being disturbed and (their numbers) indicate the environment must be pretty clean. They have a varied diet which includes skunks, voles and mice, which are plentiful. They must be doing well, even though their reproduction can be impacted by use of a lot of pesticides that would accumulate in the prey they eat."

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Owls eat just about anything they can catch, and have such acute hearing they can hear a mouse rustling in the nearby grass. They are nocturnal, hunting at night, and are known for their "silent" flight, so the prey does not hear them coming.

"Great horned owls breed in the winter and have early young," she said. "The young will start hopping around on branches and then will soon take flight by about 6-weeks-old. They often hang out with parents until the fall."

Jonathan Schechter, a Brandon Township resident with a master of science degree in forest resources from the University of Washington, and a naturalist for more than 25 years, said, "Owls are a habitat generalist. They can adapt to just about anything. The local hunting for owls is phenomenal—consider how many residents are mowing half acre chunks of property. With the low grass they can just hang out and watch for prey. Their environment is just ideal—tall white pine trees, unlimited rabbits to eat. Area residents should be able to hear the owls in the night, too."

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