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What a hoot! Rare owl sighting captured in Calgary

Tuesday, March 2nd 2021, 3:15 pm - 'I'm over the moon with excitement...as this may be a once-in-a-lifetime find!'

On my personal and ambitious quest to see all of Alberta's 12 owl species in 2021, I was extremely lucky to come across one of the hardest ones to find in recent days. Known as a "lifer" bird for many birdwatchers, the Boreal Owl is at the top of many wishlists. Yet it remains seldom seen, due to low population numbers and its tendency to roost securely, deep within the woods during the day.

After receiving a tip from a friend that the owl might be nearby, I headed to a wooded area in Calgary late one afternoon. Just before it got dark, I saw a small owl hunting on a fencepost, and my heart skipped a beat, thinking I had found the owl.

Saw-whet owl, Calgary, Alberta. Courtesy: Kyle Brittain Northern saw-whet owls are slightly smaller than boreal owls. They can be identified by their neat white lines of spots on their back, whereas boreal owls are more evenly spotted on their back. Courtesy: Kyle Brittain


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As I approached, I discovered that it was actually another owl I had yet to see that was on my list — the northern saw-whet owl. This small, adorable owl was unfazed by my presence, and even landed on a branch a mere 6 feet away from me at one point, as she hunted the vole that scurry beneath the snow. It was a memorable experience.

Saw-whet owl 2. Calgary, Alberta. Kyle Brittain Saw-whet owl poses for its close-up. Courtesy: Kyle Brittain

The next day I went back for another shot at seeing the boreal owl, and by this time, others had heard the owl might be in the area. I headed off with three others into the woods, and just as we almost gave up, we looked back and found that we had walked right under it.

We shared a few precious moments with the bird, as it peered down upon us from within the leafless Aspen canopy. As we began to sense an increase in nervousness from the owl, we retreated.

Boreal owl spotted in Calgary. Courtesy: Kyle Brittain During daytime, boreal owls roost quietly in a new site each day, so they’re a little like finding a needle in a haystack. Courtesy: Kyle Brittain

Owls are fantastic birds that can be quite tolerant and easy to observe, but they're also very sensitive to being disturbed by excessive human activity. So while I have deeply enjoyed capturing 8 of the 12 owl species in Alberta so far this year, I continue to gain an increased appreciation for what it means to protect them.

WATCH BELOW: HOW TO TAKE A PERFECT BIRD PHOTO

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