Winter in Swoope
The grasslands in Swoope are brown and dormant. Late in the afternoon I stand on our deck with my binoculars and search the wide-open pastures for Short-eared Owls. I can see for several miles north and sweep slowly 180 degrees to the south. First, I spot a herd of deer in the distance, and then I spot movement in the air—a Short-eared Owl, gliding close to the ground in silence. Then it flaps its wings without a sound and glides. It’s a magical scene watching the moth-like flight of these owls. Today I see three owls hunting.
Short-eared Owls Hunt Voles
The owls hunt our grasslands and wetlands for small mammals: mice, shrews, moles, rabbits, and the most prevalent rodent of all in our grasslands—the Meadow Vole. We have lots of voles, and that’s why the owls winter here. Voles eat grasses and various plants, seeds, and bark. Hardwood trees newly planted into grasslands often fail because voles eat the bark of young trees. The proper installation of a tree shelter will prevent vole damage.
During the day, Short-eared Owls roost on the ground where the grasses are tall. Jeanne and I have flushed up as many as 10 from a pasture we left unmowed for them.
Video courtesy Michael Godfrey and FeatherFlix.
A Common Species in Steep Decline
Short-eared Owls are a worldwide species, found on every continent except Antarctica and Australia. But in North America they are considered a common species in steep decline, losing 65% of its population since 1970 according to Partners in Flight, a nonprofit whose mission is to protect birds and bird habitat.
The decline is due to loss of habitat caused by human activity.
Short-eared Owls are in Swoope only in the winter months. They leave in the spring to return to their breeding grounds as far north as the Canadian arctic tundra.
How Can You Help?
Support smart growth that encourages agricultural landscapes.
Support the use of conservation easements.
Leave some areas of grassland un-mowed for the winter. Learn more at Virginia Working Landscapes.
Join and support organizations that help farmers improve their land. Here are some of my favorites:
Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley
Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay
Thanks for that Bobby
Truly a nice break from the world of viral information!
I have seen a couple of them but in the distance I thought they were red tails…
Stay safe down there
Thanks, George! Hey, you are not a robot!
SE Owls….never get tired of having the opportunity to watch them at dusk in Swoope
Thanks, Bill. I think they have left for their nesting grounds in the north.
Do they have a call made as dust or during the moonlit nights of late. We have heard some lately or more than one owl call at night in the mountain meadows. Thanks as always for your sharing of the natural world Bobby. Hunkering down is easier for country people than our urban neighbors.
Jason, thanks for stopping in. Yes, they are audible. We are hunkering down as well.
Thanks for this engaging profile of Swoope’s visiting authority on Vole Control. The legacy grasslands around Buffalo Gap are created and maintained by people and this compelling predator emphasizes the bond between us and the grassland wildlife. Good job, Bobby! Thanks for helping us link our own lives with others who depend on our grasslands.
Spot on, Michael. And thanks for the use of your video.
Unfortunately, my window into your world is only via web cam. Fortunately, you represent the best of those who are actively saving land, rivers, and habitat by living daily life the way you do. You, the Princess of Swoope, and Val are great examples for all of us who care.