So, how do you see these birds of the night? I guess you could get some of those special night goggles, but they are incredibly expensive and do not actually give you a good view of the birds. Or, you can just read this article and look at the pictures. Also, there are thousands of pictures online that you can look at and you do not even have to stay up late or hide out there in the dark trying to get lucky enough to see something. These birds that come out at night look different than daytime birds, with dull colored feathers and camouflaged patterns to keep them hidden from their prey and from other predators.
Common nighthawks, Chordeiles minor, are not really hawks; they are from the nightjar (Caprimulgidae) family. These birds are so well camouflaged that you would have a hard time seeing them during the daytime, let alone at night! In fact, they look like a pile of leaves and you can walk right by them and not notice unless they get startled or make noise. Nighthawks are about 10 to 12 inches long with brown, black, and gray feathers and a tiny beak that opens up to a very large mouth. These birds fly around at night in the streetlights grabbing insects like bats. In fact, they can eat thousands of bugs per day, so they are welcome at my house anytime.
The common poorwill, Phalaenoptilus nuttallii, is often referred to as a whip-poorwill but is actually a part of the Nightjar family. These night birds are very similar to nighthawks, are from the same family, and they hang out at night and eat insects too. However, they are rather lazy compared to the nighthawk because they would rather sit on the ground, hidden in the leaves, and let the bugs come to them. Then, they will simply snatch them out of the air or off the ground with their huge mouths. The poorwill is unique in the fact that they actually hibernate when it gets cooler out, but only for a short time. It is a small bird, only about seven inches long with a wingspan of less than a foot. They blend in with the leaves with a camouflage very similar to nighthawks. They usually have two eggs and lay them right there on the ground (told you they were lazy!) and the male and female share the duties between them.
Because there are so many species (218) and subspecies of owls, I am only going to write about the three most common ones. Otherwise, I would have to write a book. And do much more research. Maybe I will do that someday. Until then, here are a few of the owls you may see in your neighborhood.
The barn owl, Tyto alba, is the most widespread bird, which is probably why it is referred to as the common barn owl. In fact, you can find this owl just about anywhere on the earth besides desert or polar areas. There are three species of barn owls and 28 subspecies, they are between 14 and 16 inches tall, and have a wingspan of 32 to 38 inches. These owls have brown or gray spotted feathers with a brown or white underside. Their white face is shaped like a heart with small dark eyes. These birds mate for life and have an average of four eggs per year, which the female incubates while the male provides the food for everyone. Barn owls do not really nest only in barns, but they will use an abandoned building if they cannot find a hollow tree to nest in.
Great Horned Owl
The great horned owl, Bubo virginianus, has the characteristic owl face with yellow eyes and long tufts. They can be found just about anywhere around the globe and are the second most populous bird in the world. These owls are even found in the desert, tundra, and tropical rainforest, unlike the barn owl. Their coloring is similar to barn owls, but they have a more reddish brown color rather than gray and brown. The great horned owl is large, with a wingspan of three to five feet! They prey on anything they can pick up, including small mammals such as house cats. They lay two or three eggs per year and are taken care of by both parents until they are a few months old.
The barred owl, Strix varia, is one of only four types of owls with dark eyes. It is light gray and rufous brown and has bars of light and dark brown and gray, which is why it is called the barred owl. It is about two feet tall and their wingspan can reach four feet across! The pale face is round with a dark outline and the breast is white with gray and brown bars. These hunters can sometimes be seen catching their food during the day when it is more plentiful. The barred owl lays up to five eggs and both the male and female share the parenting duties. Never try to get a look at their babies, though, because the female will probably attack you.
In fact, you should never try to get too close to any bird or their nests. Even though it may be cool to get a picture or video of the babies or see if you can catch one and keep it as a pet, it is a bad (very bad) thing to do. Birds are wild animals and should only be observed from afar unless you are a professional. If you want to see some babies in the nest, you can set up a nest box and put a small trail camera or GoPro camera inside to get video. You will need one that automatically transmits live video feed or you will have to wait until the babies grow and are out of the nest before you can get a look at it. Do not disturb the nest while the babies are still in there. Like I said before, you can get attacked or even scare the parents away. You can check out my photos on my Facebook or Google pages too. Whatever you decide, if you want to see more birds, try placing some feeders, bird houses, and bird boxes outside in or near the trees. You will have them flocking to your yard in no time.