This morning, a barred owl was turned in to the parkway’s Blowing Rock office.
It was found on the side of the road with a broken wing. This is certainly not the first owl I have seen in this predicament.
Barred owls are the most commonly seen owl in our area. They make the familiar “who cooks for you?” call that even the youngest naturalist can identify.
These owls have well developed binocular vision. They also have highly developed hearing abilities; able even to identify a prey animal’s location in pitch darkness.
Their flying abilities surpass those of the most adept airline pilot. Their broad wings and light bodies make them nearly silent fliers, which helps them stalk prey more easily.
So why, with their excellent hearing, seeing and flying abilities, are these magnificent creatures common roadside fatalities?
Habitat loss and fragmentation are certainly to blame. All roads divide habitat and create dangerous corridors that animals must cross.
Perhaps, owls have not adjusted to the presence of cars. Modern owls first made their appearance in North America nearly 25 million years ago. Cars have been around for just the past 100.
This has not allowed too much time to alter their behavior to accommodate for our loud, fast and large metallic harbingers of death.
There is not much a concerned individual can do about the presence of roads and vehicles. However, the most probable cause of roadside owl death is something we can easily control.
Want to save an owl? Simply, don’t be a slob.
Keep trash inside your vehicle. Even seemingly harmless banana peels and apple cores will attract rodents. As the rodent snacks on our trash, it becomes an easy target for an owl.
Once an owl locks onto its prey, it does not seem to notice much else. Though it is a skilled hunter, it has not developed the skills needed to avoid our vehicles.
In tribute to this beautiful owl at our office, one that will probably never fly again, I plan on going out to pick up trash from my neighborhood’s streets. Will you join me?
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Amy Renfranz is an interpretive park guide on the Blue Ridge Parkway. She is a certified naturalist through the Yellowstone Institute and a certified environmental educator in the state of North Carolina. Her comments are made independently and do not reflect the views of the National Park Service.