A look at owls on the San Juan Islands

They swoop down silently out of the night to grab their prey, often mice, rats or voles, although a few types of owls are not fussy, any small creature will do.

“There are many questions about our local owls and local people may have valuable pieces of information to help us answer some of them and create a clearer picture,” said Shona Aitken, education coordinator at Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, a nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation center on San Juan Island. Aitken spoke to a full house at the San Juan Island Library the evening of Jan. 18, in an effort to give islanders the basic tools to identify what owls species are found in the San Juans.

According to Aitken, Great Horned, Barred and Western Screech Owls live in San Juans year round.

Great-horned owls, weighing between 1.5 to 5 pounds with a wingspan of four feet, are easily the largest of the island owls, giving out the classic hoot. It is difficult, she said, to know how many great-horned owls there are on the island, they can cover a big area. More sightings could help provide more insight into their territories.

Northern Saw Whet owls, one of the smaller of the local owls weighing only four ounces, are also mysterious. While birding organizations’ websites like Seattle Audubon show Northern Saw Whet owls live year round in Western Washington, including the San Juans, Aitken said, Wolf Hollow records show they have only received adult Northern Saw Whets in late fall or winter. That doesn’t mean they aren’t breeding here, it just means there is little record of it, and the public may be able to provide such a record.

Wolf Hollow has not received a Western Screech-owl since 2009. Aitken explains that could mean there are fewer of them, it could also mean injured birds are not being found by people.

Injured owls are brought to Wolf Hollow every winter, after being hit by cars, Aitken said, cautioning people to drive carefully after dark and to “look out for owls.”

Please report local owl sightings to Aitken at saitken@wolfhollowwildlife.org or call Wolf Hollow at 378-5000 with the species, location, date and time, and any photos or recordings.

For further information about owls, visit Owlpages.com or the Seattle Audubon’s BirdWeb.