A bird fledges when it’s out of its nest, can fly and/or can find its own food. And it is essentially full size.

From an embryo in an egg to full development in a spectacularly short time. Even a very large species achieves adulthood over one breeding season.

The process is different from mammalians, from us, say. We take years to go from a cute little baby to full-size and no longer so cute — over some two decades. If then.

So, when, if lucky, you come upon a really small, cute, even tiny owl out on its own, it’s not a baby. A full-grown little owl. A deceptively benign-appearing bird of prey. All the aspects: forward-facing eyes, hooked claws and beaks, flattened face, ranging in size from 24 and 30 inches down to 5 inches in length. Tiny owls, such as saw-whet owls, can hunker down and look like small brown rubber balls — cute and solemn, not ferocious.

This winter a rather surprising number of reports of saw-whet owls — oh, maybe 10 — have been made. One suspects a movement of these little guys this winter. Something akin to all the rough-legged hawks earlier in Jackson Hole. A suspicion only, because owls primarily hunt by night, try hard to go undetected and are at the top of the food chain. Should you know the whereabouts of any owl or owl family, you’re fortunate.

We have a book titled “The Owls of North America,” by Allan W. Eckert with paintings by Karl E. Karalus (1987). It’s quite an informative piece of work, thorough and well-written. Here’s how its introduction starts:

“Owls are marvelous birds.

“They are incredible in the acuteness of their senses of sight and hearing and remarkable in their ability to fly with utter soundlessness. They are admirable in their ferocity and courage and always fascinating in their habits.

“Yet, because owls are essentially birds of the night and thus far less often seen than birds of the day, they are also decidedly creatures of mystery. On a wordwide basis, probably no other bird throughout the history of mankind has been so deeply revered, so greatly feared, or thoroughly respected, or so soundly hated. No other bird has been so fundamentally misunderstood or so much the subject of superstition and fancy. For some cultures the owl has been the symbol of war or death, stillbirth or tragedy; for others it has been the symbol of wisdom or prophecy, truth or omniscience, and was frequently represented in emblem, effigy, symbol or ornament.”

The “little owls” that can be expected to be found in the Hole include the Northern saw-whet, Northern pygmy and boreal. (Bigger owls are Western screech, burrowing, long-eared, short-eared, great horned and great gray.)

When preparing (!) this column I left space for a comment on national politics. Turns out I just can’t do it. And you don’t need it.

Field Notes: Of a sudden, ahead of some snow and wind, there seems to have arrived in the Hole more American goldfinches, pine siskins, house finches, plus a few juncos.

No reports yet of rosy finches. Clark’s nutcrackers are coming to a few feeders in Jackson (those feeders that are filled). Birds can sure use a bit of reliable food these winter days.

It will be interesting to try to notice if a reduction in rough-legged hawks will result from recent heavier snow or not. Voles may not be as easy to catch from here on out.

Moose Day, an annual event that enlists volunteers to tally moose around the valley, is March 1. If you’d like to help out email frances@jhwildlife.org.

Winter’s in charge, and it’s Valentine’s time. Relax.

©Bert Raynes 2014

Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways.

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