A studio for bird study

Tag: strix

Barred Owl – Out of Range but Seemingly Comfortable

by Bryce W. Robinson


Around the turn of the year a Barred Owl – Strix varia, was reported in Boise, Idaho. The owl has been seen regularly for the past month. Barred Owls occur in Boise once every few years as vagrants from somewhere unknown. This Barred Owl showed up in a city park on the east side of town, only about a mile from the foothills. The peculiar part is that the park is adjacent to the Boise River, a large wooded area, and acres of open field. Instead of occupying these more wild, less human areas, the owl has chosen the back yards adjacent to the park to roost. The bird hunts the park edges and greens at night, apparently having loads of success. This behavior is a testament to the hardness of this species against human disturbance. It is one of those few species that seems to do well with the world we are creating.

I took the video above a few days ago just before sunset. The owl was alert, no longer snoozing. The most interesting thing about the video is the birds behavior coupled with the anthropogenic noise. In the clip you can hear a man playing fetch with his dog, someone closing a house door, and many other human sounds typical of urban living.

Why is this Barred Owl able to tolerate a lifestyle like this, yet other species are so sensitive to disturbance? The Barred Owl’s closest North American relative, the Spotted Owl, is certainly having a hard time with the way we are changing its world. These types of questions are worth entertaining as more and more we change the world around us, better for some but certainly not for all.



The “Lifer” Great Grey Owl

by Bryce W. Robinson

IMG_9716 copyI still have a massive collection of experiences to share from the past year of my beatnik travels across the continent in search of birds. At the top of the list is seeing my first Great Grey Owl in the Yukon Terrritory. 

Caitlin Davis and I stopped in a small town, a village really, called Haines Junction, to meet with our friend Bill Clark, who was in the Yukon chasing and banding Harlan’s Hawks. Bill and I share a passion for the Harlan’s, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend the day with him chasing the enigmatic hawk. In the morning we set out with Bill and a young graduate student, Megan Mayo, who is doing her thesis on the genetics of pigmentation (broad description) in the Red-tailed Hawk. It was a very damp day, raining regularly, but the Harlan’s were plentiful.

IMG_9709 copy


While Traveling down the highway, scanning for Harlan’s, Megan spotted a large dark creature perched on a snag. Indeed the large figure was the Great Grey Owl, watching the roadside in the rain, hoping for a meal. 

This Great Grey was my first, and Caitlin’s first, and Megan’s first as well. The bird had six eyes entranced on its behaviors. While Megan and Caitlin approached the owl to experience it in more detail, I set up my video equipment and chatted with Bill. He had seen many in his day of course, but I could tell the bird still brought him some joy. I was rushing as the girls approached the bird. I felt some anxiety at the possibility of setting up and having the bird retreat before I could take a clip. Bill reassured me that the bird wouldn’t mind the intrusion, as in his experience, they are very tame in temperament. Of course he was correct. The bird tolerated our presence.

IMG_9355 copyBoth Caitlin and I took many photos. I’d love to share everything, but at the moment I’ve settle on the three. Notice the feather structure of the bird. It is fascinating, as the rain dampened the birds feathers, creating incredible textures. Caitlin’s photo shows the birds face at an angle that displays the deep inset eyes, showing the extent of which the birds mass is comprised of feathers. I really can’t describe what it was like to be so close to such a creature. There is a reason people talk about this bird as if it were the top of their list, the bird they seek most. I encourage bird lovers to make the Great Grey Owl a priority. It is one of the birds that lives up to the hype, one that will surely not let you down.



Spotted Owl- Strix occidentalis

by Bryce W. Robinson

Spotted Owl- Strix occidentalis. 9x12" prismacolor on black paper

Spotted Owl- Strix occidentalis. 9×12″ prismacolor on black paper


Northern Spotted Owl- Strix occidentalis caurina

by Bryce W. Robinson

Northern Spotted Owl- Strix occidentalis caurina. 11x15" watercolor on paper.

I’ve never seen a Spotted Owl in person. I’m sure the day will come, whether it be the Mexican Spotted Owl, Californian, or Northern, I’m sure it will be incredible. I’m currently working on a job with a guy named Jeff, who has spent the greater part of the last eight years in northern California working with the Northern Spotted Owl. He tells endless stories of his nightly wanderings amidst the redwood giants of Humboldt County. I love telling my own stories of wilderness wanderings, but even more, I love listening to others.

The other night over some beer, Jeff showed me a number of videos he took of Spotted Owls. I couldn’t believe the footage, and the narrative he provided with each clip. It made me anxious to get out and find the bird. After some time went by, I realized I had to paint an owl for Jeff. I respect his work, and truly envy the time he has spent working with this creature, so the next day I sat and painted the Norhtern Spotted Owl. I gave it to Jeff to thank him for sharing his passion.

Currently the Spotted Owl is facing a new threat. We all know of the controversy between environmentalists and the logging industry about the removal of old growth forest timber so important in the lives of the Spotted Owl, but this new threat is not man. The Barred Owl- Strix varia, has now moved into the territory of the Spotted Owl. As the Barred Owl is more adaptable, and outcompetes the Spotted Owl, concern has risen that the fate of the Spotted Owl is again reaching a critical state. The topic is very complicated, as all things ecological are. Managers are now discussing the possibility of shooting the Barred Owl to eliminate it from the area. Such an ardent management policy is of course highly controversial, and requires a great deal of discussion and contemplation.

I would love to research the topic more thoroughly, and make an actual report and analysis of the issue. I have my own opinion, however I will admit it is not a truly educated opinion. In the future, I will gather some research papers and some background on how the Barred Owl has come to the areas of the Spotted owl, and what I think should be done in attempt to solve the problem. Until I complete that essay I’ll have to stay away from forming a public opinion. I would, however, love to hear how people feel about the issue.