A couple of weeks ago, I was told about a family of owls living just on the north edge of Nakusp. The property owner described the owls as being quite large. He had seen the adults a number of times during the day, and heard the young ones squawking at dusk.
I suggested that there were two possibilities: Great Horned Owl or Barred Owl. I felt that the most likely candidate would be Barred Owl. This mid-sized owl is fairly common in our region and is certainly known to breed here. The Great Horned Owl seemed less likely since I have not seen any evidence that would suggest that this species breeds around Nakusp. On the other hand, Barred Owls are not often seen during the day, whereas Great Horned Owls are.
A couple of days later, Ken Cross and I went up to the property to try and find the owls. After a considerable amount of wandering around, Ken had a good look at an adult Great Horned Owl! We did not, however see any young birds.
But a few days later, Ken returned to the property and did see two young Great Horned Owls flying about with the parents. This is a very good record for our region. Generally this species does not favour the damp and relatively dense forests found in the upper portions of the Arrow Lakes valley. They are much more common in the drier and more open habitats such as those found in the Okanagan and the East Kootenay.
Since I moved to Nakusp in 1975, I have seen Great Horned Owls about a dozen times in this part of the valley. Owls are not always easy to find, so it is quite likely I have missed some; but they are definitely not a common bird in our area.
Barred Owls are a little smaller, and they do like dense forests. As a result, they are regulars here. But still, they are owls, and their nocturnal habits make them less visible than birds which are active during the day.
Despite the fact that I know there are several breeding pairs in and around Nakusp, I still only encounter them once or twice each year.
Probably our most common owl is the diminutive Northern Saw-whet Owl. This tiny predator is smaller than a robin. Whereas the two larger owls have more typical hooting calls, the saw-whet, whistles. Their sometime monotonous call consists of a single whistled note repeated about once per second for minutes at a time. Not particularly loud, but definitely annoying if it decides to call outside the bedroom window in the middle of the night.
There are fifteen species of owls in British Columbia. In addition to the three already mentioned, only the Northern Pygmy-Owl is seen regularly here. Twelve of the fifteen, however, have been seen in or around Nakusp at least once.