Called also: MARSH OWL ; MEADOW OWL ; PRAIRIE OWL
Length14 to 17 inches ; female the larger.
Male and FemaleEar tufts inconspicuous ; face disk white, or nearly so, minutely speckled with blackish, and with large black eye patches and yellow eyes; upper parts dusky brown, the feathers margined with yellow; under parts whitish or buff, the breast broadly streaked, never mottled, with brown, and underneath more finely and sparingly streaked ; tail barred with buff and dusky bands of equal width. Bill and claws dusky blue black; legs feathered with buff.
RangeNearly cosmopolitan ; throughout North America, and nesting from Virginia northward.
SeasonChiefly a migratory visitor ; April, November ; also a resident in many sections.
Here is an owl that breaks through several family traditions, for it does not live in woods, neither does it confine its hunting excursions to the dark hours; but, living in the marshes or grassy meadows, it flies abroad much by day, especially in cloudy weather, after two o’clock in the afternoon, as well as at night. Another unconventional trait it has: it makes its nest of hay and sticks on the ground instead of in hollow trees or upper parts of buildings; and one nest that contained six white eggs, discovered in a lonely marsh where the least bittern was the owl’s nearest neighbor, was in a tussock quite surrounded by water. The bittern, that misanthropic recluse, springing into the air, was off at once, dangling its legs behind it ; whereas the marsh owl, that is not at all shy, simply stared and blinked, with a half human expression of wonder on its face, until the intruder became too impertinent and lifted it off its nest. Even then it did nothing more spiteful than to sharply click its bill as it circled about just overhead. Yet there seems to be a popular impression that this owl is fierce. Even Nuttall has said it will attack a man ! In the west the burrows of ground squirrels and rabbits or the hole of a muskrat have been utilized, since none of the owls is overscrupulous about appropriating other creatures’ homes, however much attached a pair may become to a spot that has once cradled their brood. ” As useless as a last year’s nest ” can have no meaning to owls. Still another peculiarity of this owl is that it is almost never seen to alight on a tree; the ground is its usual resting place, a stump or knoll a high enough point of vantage. Mice, gophers, and insects of various kinds, which are its food, keep this hunter close to earth; and as it flies low, and does not take to wing until fairly stepped on, it encourages close acquaintance, thereby earning a reputation for being the most abundant species in the United States. Its alleged superiority of numbers may also be accounted for by the fact that during the migrations it is sometimes found in flocks numbering a hundred.
Aside from a quavering, mouse-like squeak, the marsh owl apparently makes no sound. Its flight is positively uncanny in its silence. Like the barn and the long-eared owls, this invaluable ally earns the fullest protection from the farmers.