Closer and closer

We were driving the country roads through Sax-Zim bog on a foggy, misty morning in northern Minnesota looking for Great Gray Owls along the side of the road, when we finally thought we had spotted one.

barred owl

But one look at those dark eyes gave it away. This was a Barred Owl, the only species of North American owl with dark brown instead of golden yellow eyes.

I was sure the owl would fly away, so I took dozens of photos as it sat there, turning its back and forth to check on us now and then.  But we drove a little closer…

barred owl

And then a little closer…

barred owl

until finally we came up right next to the bird, and it completely filled the field of view in my telephoto lens.  How often does that happen?

barred owl

Enlarging just the owl’s head, it seemed like the bird’s inner eyelids were actually closed even though it seemed to be looking right at us. I’ve lightened up the bird’s head and its eye in this photo to show you what I mean.

barred owl showing partially closed inner eyelid

Many animals have a third eyelid (the nictitating membrane), which is transparent but protects and moistens/lubricates the eye as it is pulled across when the animal “blinks”. Being well adapated to hunt in the darkness, Barred Owls often perch in the daytime with the nictitating membrane pulled across their eyes, to dim the light. It’s kind of light wearing sunglasses for them, I guess.

16 thoughts on “Closer and closer

    • Thanks. I hear them in my back yard, but have only found one individual there. Great horned owls are actually easier to find here than Barred owls.

  1. Great shots, Sue, of a species that is not easy to find, much less photograph. Those of us who photograph birds dream of filling the frame, but it almost never happens. Your info on the eyes is fascinating. Sunglasses on a bird? I like that mental picture.

  2. Daytime owls seem to take a lot of harassment from crows and jays, so I guess maybe if you’re not actively trying to knock them off their perch, they figure they’ll stay put.

    • I agree, they probably do think they will get chased or harassed if they move. I think Barred Owls do a great job of camouflaging themselves by sitting next to the trunk of a tree, where their bars just blend into the vegetation.

  3. “How often does that happen?” Never, for me. If I approach, the bird just flies off. I’ve never seen an owl in the wild before. Nice shots1

    • Yes, most of the time that is what happens to me too, but up here in the frozen northland (where the human population density is far, far lower), the critters seem more tolerant of cars and humans, in particular. They don’t spook when they see you coming, like they do around my house.

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