While hiking in the nature park on April 21, Kimberley resident Spence Johnston spotted a small owl sitting on a tree branch. He was able to take a number of pictures and has shared those with us. To our delight, Spence has made the first-ever discovery of a boreal owl in the Kimberley Nature Park, and one of the few sightings of this bird in the East Kootenay.
The boreal owl has no ear tufts and is about the size of a robin.
Boreal owls are small, about the size of a robin (although with broader, longer wings). They are active at night when they hunt for small mammals such as mice, voles and pocket gophers. They tend to sit quietly perched on a branch and use their exceptional hearing to locate any prey within striking distance, even through snow, and then quickly pounce down to collect it. Interestingly, their ears are asymmetrically located on their heads with one higher and one lower, which helps them better gauge height as well as distance.
Boreal owls inhabit forests across the northern hemisphere, and in North America their populations exist along the Rocky Mountains well into the United States. They tend to prefer mature forests and nest in the abandoned holes of pileated woodpeckers and flickers (of which there are many in the park). When raising young, both parents play a role until the birds have fledged. A surprisingly large number of the female birds (up to 70%) abandon the family to go look for another mate. The male continues to raise the young until they can hunt independently. The chance of the female leaving the family is higher in years with lots of prey around, and in one year the females may actually have two clutches with two different males.
It is always exciting to find a new species in the park, especially one as locally rare as this. We will be adding the boreal owl to our park species list the next time it is updated.
Boreal owls use perches like this to hunt for small mammals at night.