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DPChallenge Forums >> Out and About >> Great Grey Owls in Ottawa
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02/12/2013 08:28:49 PM · #1
Every 4-6 years there is an influx of great grey owls in Eastern Ontario and lucky for us this is one of those years. Just after Christmas I had heard that there was a snowy owl just south of where I live so I got up early one morning to try and find her. I didn't have any luck but I did spot a great grey. It was perched in a maple tree on the side of a dirt road. I stopped and it flew further in to the tree line so I hiked in and ended up getting some shots of it. Copyrighted_Image_Reuse_Prohibited_1048182.jpg (I can't tell if it is a make or female). Later that month I heard about the influx of these birds in the area. The news talked about four on a parkway in the east and how they were there every day.

Last week I decided to go and hike to see if I could find them. The first morning I hiked for 5K in -23C weather with no luck and I had to leave for work. I managed to get back on Saturday and I saw a group of photographers all in a semicircle so I knew an owl was there. I picked up the pace and as I got closer a great grey flew out of the trees and landed about 3 feet from one of them. They were being baited. Apparently a couple of them where sponsored by a photogrphy company. The photographers thought they owned the area. They were bossy and rude to others who where there to appreciate the birds. I spoke with people from NY, Philly, Toronto, Guelph and Montreal. All of them were left with a bad taste in their mouths from the experience. To top if all off after this last baiting they left behind all of their garbage, from the pails the mice where in to the coffee cups they had. It was so disappointing.

I am thinking about heading back tomorrow morning but part of me doesn't want to see this. I was so happy to see the first great grey on my own and experience it naturally. It was such a disgrace to photographers, birders, and the families that were there.

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02/12/2013 09:33:06 PM · #2
Sorry to hear about your experience Tracey. Unfortunately, baiting is all too common and seems unethical to me. :-( The behavior of that particular group of Photographers sounds especially terrible but I hope that doesn't prevent you from going out and trying to get your own pictures of the owls. We were fortunate to be in Northern Minn in 2004 when there was an irruption of Great Grey Owls and I was able to get a few nice shots of them. It was a wonderful birding experience and I hope you have as great a time photographing them as I did. Good Luck!
02/12/2013 11:39:39 PM · #3
Do you have any wide shots of the people who did the baiting? I'll bet rangers or wildlife protection authorities in your area would like to know who these guys were. It is a cheap way to get your shot, and I am fine with doing what it takes to get a shot, but if these guys used to this treatment too often, it can seriously mess up the owl's feeding habits. Stop them, send the images to those who can do something.
02/13/2013 08:47:47 AM · #4
I'm with Brennan on this one, Tracey. Contact Conservation, they will probably be better equipped to deal with situations like that than regular cops. Hopefully they are already well aware that there are owls and likely baiting going on too.

BTW wondering if there are any influxes of snowies in the area this year...last month's FS winner was shot in St Catharine's. Red and I found a few out in Casselman area a couple years ago along with snow buntings.
02/13/2013 09:08:46 AM · #5
I'll comment on male vs. female. In most owl species, the female is usually 30% larger than the male. Of course, that sex determination depends on a relative size comparison. Easy, if the mated pair is sitting in close proximity. Not easy, if you only see one.
02/13/2013 09:03:14 PM · #6
Thanks all for your feed back. The worst part was thier actions, wanting the nature shot but not caring about it at all. I did decide to go back today and it was very different. I spotted two of them along the trail. I was able to see the difference between the male - he was much smaller - and the female. There were some peole baiting but it seemed like they did it in a more educated and caring way. In saying this I am in no way agreeing with or disagreeing with baiting. I can honestly say this was the first time I had ever heard or seen it and I need to research it more.

As for contacting the Conservation this is part of thier response to someone else who was concerned.

'In response to your correspondence, we wish to inform you that, in accordance with the National Capital Commission Regulations as well as with the Ontario Provincial Regulations, there are no existing laws prohibiting the practice of feeding or baiting owls with mice.

Our Conservation Officers, in consultation with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR), advise us that feeding owls with mice is not dangerous to the birds.

Although this practice may make the owls more comfortable around humans, the benefit of receiving food during the harsh winter months outweighs the risk of people approaching the birds to observe them and to take their pictures. Feeding the birds a food already found in their natural environment does not have any effect on their digestive system.

The practice of feeding the owls could have a negative impact if spread over an extended period of time. This would results in the birds loosing their ability to hunt on their own.

We thank you for taking the time to share your observations with us and rest assured that we will continue to closely monitor this situation.''
02/13/2013 09:12:23 PM · #7
I'll feeding the songbirds in my back yard, and I'll feed meal worms to the bluebirds, because I'm trying to attract them to nest in my boxes. But baiting the birds of prey seems wrong.

Besides that -- it just doesn't work!! I leave squirrels out on my deck every single day, and I've only seen a hawk there twice! :P
02/13/2013 10:03:55 PM · #8
Originally posted by vawendy:

Besides that -- it just doesn't work!! I leave squirrels out on my deck every single day, and I've only seen a hawk there twice! :P


Yeah but one's missing a nose and the other is missing an ear!
02/13/2013 10:16:59 PM · #9
I found an interesting blog debate on baiting owls. it seems I was wrong about it's illegality. Baiting is only illegal for hunting purposes around here.

IMHO the differences between baiting songbirds with seed and hunters with mice are twofold. Songbirds are often urban creatures that live around humans while hunters are not. Getting hunters comfortable with humans and associating them with food, expose them to risks they would otherwise not be exposed to. Secondly the seed you put out is much less likely to be a vector of disease than a store bought mouse which are often raise in conditions that are pretty ugly.
02/13/2013 11:02:00 PM · #10
That is a great blog with so many different points of view. I can say this the great grey shot that I entered in the January free study was taken without bait, in the wild and it took me a long time trekking through heavy snow...and I love it. Today I did get some unbaited shots and I took some shots when they were being baited. Both turned out well but when I was reviewing all of them I felt like I cheated with the baited shots and I am so happy with the ones that are not a result of the bait.
02/14/2013 07:03:56 AM · #11
Originally posted by hahn23:

I'll comment on male vs. female. In most owl species, the female is usually 30% larger than the male. Of course, that sex determination depends on a relative size comparison. Easy, if the mated pair is sitting in close proximity. Not easy, if you only see one.


Interesting, cause I think with snowies the two are the same size. That seems to be true of most local hawks like osprey, sharpies, redtails and roughies. But a lot of the time the female is bigger, the idea being that as she is a bit bulkier and meant to lay eggs (which usually the female hatches) the smaller and more agile male is better able to catch prey. At least that's what I've read in correlation to golden eagles.

Also have seen barred owls in the area, much smaller (about 2 ft long) but heads not so big and they have black eyes. They're the hoot-owls you hear at night.

ETA: Good to get an official note back from Conservation on the issue, guess I'm not too surprised that they aren't overly concerned about baiting.

Message edited by author 2013-02-14 07:06:32.
02/14/2013 01:50:50 PM · #12
I have always, always wanted to see an owl in the wild and have really never done so. We found a barn owl in our home as it was being built years ago when I was a kid, but that's it. I hear them at night on occasion (here these owls are female horned owls) and I so want to crawl out of bed and go find it, but I never do it (and probably wouldn't find it anyway).

I have no way of knowing, but I feel that 90% of all the awesome owls in flight pictures (ie. low to the ground flying right at the camera not like the one currently on the front page) you have ever seen have been done with baiting. It just strikes me as way, way to hard to capture that without.
02/14/2013 02:43:12 PM · #13
Originally posted by DrAchoo:

...

I have no way of knowing, but I feel that 90% of all the awesome owls in flight pictures (ie. low to the ground flying right at the camera not like the one currently on the front page) you have ever seen have been done with baiting. It just strikes me as way, way to hard to capture that without.


You are correct. Locally, there is a Raptor Photo Safaris enterprise. This is akin to a menagerie to me, and I mean that in the worst sense of the word. Sort of pricey, but always sells out. I strongly object to the ethics of staging tethered and/or drugged wild animals/birds for the purpose of set-up shots, as if the confined wildlife were seen and photographed in wild. I've never participated in one of these shows, but I see the resulting photos all the time. The photographers sometimes forget to mention the nature of the event which created the opportunity.

Baiting or calling raptors in the national park is strictly prohibited. Some researchers have permits to call and net nocturnal raptors. Okay, to gather research data, I think.

I do take advantage of bird behavior from an unobtrusive distance. When birds are nurturing their young, the adults will come to the nest often. That was the setup for my Mama owl and owlet photo. I'll be leading bird hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park again this year. One of the things I stress to my hike participants is ethical behavior in both observing and photographing. I would love to have DPC members join me on my bird walks in order to see wild birds in their natural habitat. The Great Horned Owls will hatch about April 1 and fledge about June 11.
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Three years ago, there was the famous "Jumping wolf photographer loses wildlife prize" story. Whether it's owls in close proximity flight or dramatic wolf jumping images, there is a quest for the "money shot".

Message edited by author 2013-02-14 14:50:28.
02/14/2013 03:19:22 PM · #14
It was a thrill to be able to photograph this Great Grey Owl in the wild during the irruption - without baiting. A large number of owls had come down to MN from Canada when the food supply was scarce up there.

This picture was taken with an old 3.2 MP point and shoot camera that I had at the time but I've never had the opportunity to see them again now that I have a decent tele. :-(

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02/14/2013 03:23:22 PM · #15
This is what my best snowy shot has to say about that whole baiting issue, she had just had a snack of mouse/vole (she was right by a very large grain processing farm) Copyrighted_Image_Reuse_Prohibited_996171.jpg...uuuurp.

Message edited by author 2013-02-14 15:24:32.
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