How The Hen House Turns: Owls Of Los Alamos

Formerly of Los Alamos
Every morning here in California, I hear the owls over Sausal Pond hooting back and forth, and I try to remember what owls we heard behind our house in Los alamos. The house sat beside the canyon near the Golf Course. My husband Don experienced their silent presence one evening while walking into the hills above town. He sensed, not heard, the bird pass by him in the dusk.
Owls are amazing with their ear tuffs and round faces ringed with feathers to trap sound. With hearing ten times more sensitive than ours, they are capable of hearing prey under snow.
Side spaces between their neck bones mean they can turn their head 270 degrees. They hunt at night with a mental map to guide them and a high density of cells in their retina to aide their vision.
A recent PBS documentary demonstrated owls’ flight sounds with a set of microphones lined up to record the sounds as they flew past. Comparison sound charts showed the sharp angles of the noisy swish Peregrines and crows made as they flew past the test run, but the owls’ flight showed a straight silent line on the chart. No sound was heard or recorded.
The owls’ lack of turbulence, hence silence, is due to their very smooth feathers and bottom hook feature on each. However, they pay a price for silent hunting. Their feathers are not waterproof so their chicks need to be covered in rain. They could die from wet, cold exposure.
Bandelier reports online that six species of owls have been identified in there. The most often seen is the Northern Pygmy Owl. Others include the Flammulated Owl, Western Screech owl, Great Horned Owl, Northern Pygmy Owl and Northern Saw-whet Owl.
Last December the Lab reported that a recent survey found that the population of Mexican Spotted Owls were “holding steady.” They were found living and breeding in Three mile Canyon, and appeared in Mortandad Canyon and Acid Canyon. Seven Mexican Spotted chicks were hatched on lab property in July 2015.
Owls feed on rodents, insects and lizards–usually waiting patiently at night for a meal to appear within striking distance. I wonder if they eat the fish in our local Sausal Pond, which is a short section of the San Andreas Fault. That’s where I hear all the hooting, both morning and evening.
Do take a look at the excellent descriptions of Los Alamos area owls on the PEEC website.