Barn Owl in the Forest Knolls’ Forest

I was driving west along Clarendon Avenue, heading homeward. As I slid into the turn lane to make a right on Christopher, something white lay on the side of the road. I slowed nearly to a stop, unsure what it was. Then I recognized it as a barn owl, wings spread. My fear was that it might be injured, perhaps from hitting a car.

To my relief, it rose into the air and disappeared into the trees of Sutro Forest, a rodent clutched in the talons of its right foot. It must have just caught it.

But I was in even more luck! As I turned right, it sailed out of the forest ahead of me, looped over Christopher Dr, and flew back to a tree beside the street. Then it took off again, but only went a little deeper into the forest.

The last time I saw a barn owl in Forest Knolls was seven years ago: Evening Walk with Owl and Moon

Later, I went back. The owl was there, but difficult to see in the darkness. I heard rustling sounds that suggested it was eating the rodent it had caught. I tried getting photographs, but both my phone and camera rebelled at the darkness. This picture is an edited public domain photograph.

So if you hear hisses, screeches, and rasping noises from the forest – or around our neighborhood – it’s barn owls on rodent patrol. (Also, please don’t use rodenticides, especially slow-acting ones like brodifacoum. It could kill the owl.)


Another Sad Owl Death in Glen Park

Another year, another dead owl in Glen Canyon Park. Last year, almost to the day, I wrote about a dead Great Horned Owl. This time, it’s a barn owl. It may have been poisoned by eating rats that had been poisoned with a rodenticide. Barn owls are wonderful at keeping rodents down, since they eat almost nothing but mice and rats – but when the rodents have been poisoned, the owls die.

dead barn owl

The poor owl has been sent to WildCare for a necropsy (that’s an autopsy for animals), so we can find out for sure. It costs $300 to perform this analysis, and so neighbors are asking for contributions to WildCare (which is a wonderful non-profit that takes in rescued wild animals and birds) to cover their costs.

Anyone willing to contribute can do so by mail, online or phone, please reference “Barn Owl Patient #1754″.

  • Phone: Contact WildCare’s Stewardship Manager, Jan Armstrong, 415-453-1000, ext. 13,
  • (there’s a link on the website to donate money by credit card)
  • By Check: Send it directly to WildCare, 76 Albert Park Lane, San Rafael, 94901.

This is relevant not just to Glen Canyon, but to all neighborhoods, including ours. We’ve seen barn owls here. Rodenticides kill not just mice and rats, but animals up the food chain: owls, dogs, cats, coyotes, hawks.

There’s an initiative to limit the use of some of the most destructive and dangerous ones: see WildCare’s Rodenticide Diagnostics & Advocacy Program . If you have additional questions about rodenticides, you may contact Wildlife Solutions Manager, Kelle Kacmarcik who is coordinating this effort. You may reach her at 415-456-7283, ext. 23.

Please help save our owls and other animals and birds!


A Barn Owl’s Sad End

One of San Francisco’s ace birders, Dominik Mosur, works at San Francisco’s Randall Museum, and occasionally gets calls from people finding birds in distress. On this occasion, it was worse than distress. The barn owl in a pine tree at the Mission High School was dead. The bird had lived around there for some months, hunting and perching.  Now it was dead.

Photo credit: Dominik Mosur

He retrieved the body and found the cause of death. Some netting, possibly from a Christmas tree, had caught on the owl’s foot, and snagged on a branch, trapping it.

This is a message to please think about discarded materials  — particularly things like plastic netting, fishing line, or six-pack holders. If this had been rope, maybe the bird could have bitten through it and escaped. With plastic, there was no way.

According to Rebecca Dmytryk of WildRescue, a wildlife rescue organization in Moss Beach:

“Sadly, this sort of accident is not unusual. Birds can become tangled in discarded fishing line, kite string, or netting, then the material catches on a branch and then they’re stuck, sometimes hanging upside down. The worst part about this story though, is that no one knew it was in trouble I guess, and it starved to death.”

A press release on the subject said:

Dmytryk hopes this story will prompt people to be more vigilant and quicker to report wild animals in distress. If they do not know whom to call they can use Wildrescue’s toll-free hotline that will provide the number to the nearest rescue organization – that’s 1-866-WILD-911. They can also report injured wildlife directly to or paging a rescue team at 831-429-2323.

Anyone interested in learning more about what to do when they find an injured wild animal may be interested in attending their Wildlife Search & Rescue class being given in coming weeks.

Learn what to do when you come face to face with a wild animal that’s in trouble and needs help. Learn how to become part of a team of trained and qualified rescuers who respond to emergencies involving wildlife on a regular basis. This class is the ONLY one of its kind and is tailored for those who work with animals and want to better their skills and those who have an interest in becoming a volunteer wildlife rescuer.

The lecture part of the class covers laws and regulations governing wildlife rescue, human safety and animal safety concerns, capture strategies, proper animal handling techniques, basic first aid for wildlife accident victims, and initial care of healthy wild babies. The afternoon portion of the program gives students the opportunity to try out equipment and practice their skills with Robo-Duck.
To REGISTER :  w i l d r e s c u e . o r g (831) 840-3896

ALAMEDA:  FEBRUARY 5, 9:00 – 3:00, Shorebird Nature Center, 160 University Ave. Berkeley
SANTA CLARA: JANUARY 28, 9:00 – 3:00, Morgan Hill PD, 16200 Vineyard Blvd. Morgan Hill
MONTEREY:  JANUARY 15, 9:00 – 3:00 Elkhorn Yacht Club, 2370 Highway 1 Moss Landing
SANTA CRUZ: JANUARY 29, 9:00 – 3:00, Santa Cruz PD, 155 Center Street,Santa Cruz

Evening Walk with Owl and Moon

I went for a walk around our neighborhood last evening… Forest Knolls is easy night-time walking. Good sidewalks. Bright but not oppressive lighting. A dramatic crescent moon setting over a theatrical city-lights backdrop.

And a barn owl, flying overhead. They’re very silent, so I can’t say what made me look up, but there it was, winging its way over the neighborhood. It may have been hunting, but I think it was just checking the place out.

It’s easy to tell a barn owl from a great horned owl — our other neighborhood owl —  even in the dark, even in flight. A barn owl appears white, and its head looks round. It’s sometimes called a “ghost owl.” It doesn’t have the “ears” or “horns” that a great horned owl has. It also flies more nimbly. Rodents, beware!

The picture here isn’t the owl I saw; that was moving too fast for my camera and my reflexes. It’s a public domain picture that I’ve tweaked to make it somewhat similar to that owl. I wonder if this was the same owl I saw some weeks ago on Twin Peaks.

Critter-Spotting on a Foggy Night

A foggy night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets… and me, prowling along in my little car, hoping it would share them. Not the kind of secrets found in City Hall or downtown in the dark alleys… critters.

Foggy nights are often good for critter-spotting. On Panorama Drive, I saw a trio of raccoons chase each other across the road and disappear into the shadows between two houses. And then, on Twin Peaks, which was densely swathed in fog, a barn owl!

I’ve been wanting to see one, ever since learning that they do inhabit San Francisco. This one was sitting by the side of the road, like a large white cat wanting to thumb a ride. Cursing myself for forgetting my camera, I stopped the car and put my flashers on to watch it.  I was afraid someone coming fast round the bend might take it out, and wished it would move. It walked down the road a bit, which didn’t help. Two cars went around me.  Then the  owl took flight, just a few feet, but thankfully onto the hillside.

I went home for my camera, but the owl had moved on. At least it wasn’t roadkill.