Are you ready for the Superb Owl? While you Stephen Colbert fans and meme-savvy denizens of Facebook are already rolling your eyes, and saying things like “that’s so four years ago”, you may be surprised to know how many people are unfamiliar with the Superb Owl.
I just now convened a small focus group consisting of my wife Emily and my dog, Timmy the Adventure Chihuahua, and neither had heard of the Superb Owl. I’m especially surprised at Timmy, who, since he looks like a big prairie dog, needs to be aware of owls a lot more than most of us.
The Superb Owl in question is quite rare, temporally speaking. It only shows itself for one day in February, albeit with an irritating amount of hype during the lead-up, but then quickly disappears. As rare as they are, tens of millions of people around the world have seen at least one. Their arrival tends to result in a lot of parties held specifically for viewing the Superb Owl, often attended by people not especially interested in it, but who go because, hey, there’s food, and meh, it’s what you do.
In contrast, our much more common Great Horned Owls can be seen and heard year round, and have been especially vocal lately as pairs settle down to lay eggs. That’s right - though it’s deepest, coldest winter, Great Horneds are so tough that they are sitting on nests already in January and February, even as snow piles up on their heads.
But the Superb Owl, despite its association with February, is not so tough, and when they occur in cold places, like Minnesota for example, can usually be found taking shelter under a roof of some sort, often preferring dome-shaped ones. The Superb Owl shares this shelter-seeking behavior with our other common local owl, the Eastern Screech Owl, who like to roost and nest inside hollow trees or even in nest boxes in yards. Several lucky people sent me photos this winter of screech owls staring either sleepily or intensely out from the hole in their backyard box (sleepy and intense being the only two settings that screech owls seem to have). If you would like to attract one to your yard, a nest box about 14” high with a 3” hole is perfect, and you can find plans or pre-built boxes online. Listen for these guys any time of year, but know that you can easily call them in with an imitation of their call.
The Superb Owl, on the other hand, is not so easy to imitate. Unlike any bird I am familiar with, their vocalizations change dramatically each year. If you happen to hear one this year, you might notice a dancy, contemporary R&B feel, not unlike what you might hear from, say, Justin Timberlake. Incidentally, this bird guy is not ashamed to note that he’s a big fan of JT, a modern day vaudevillian who manages to be both the Fred Astaire of our time and the heir apparent to Michael Jackson. But I digress.
Wherever it turns up, the Superb Owl’s annual presence often draws other, usually predatory wildlife, including Falcons, Bears, and Ravens in past years. This year it has attracted some Eagles, though I wouldn’t put any money on those eagles surviving past Sunday. Last year a flock of Falcons had the misfortune to be drawn to the Superb Owl, and parts of the country are still traumatized by their fate.
If you want to know more about the Superb Owl, you can, of course, Google it. Just be sure to ignore the search engine when it autocorrects your spelling to “Super Bowl”, whatever that is – must be a glitch in their algorithms. Oh, and on an unrelated note, go Pats.