I still hear reports of people seeing lots of owls in the northern parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota—owls that have migrated south from their homes in the arctic and the tundra. The most commonly seen of these northern owls are the Snowy and the Great grey owl. Another smaller, less conspicuous owl that may be seen perched on a tree limb or the top of a pole is the Northern Hawk owl. He stands 14 to 16 inches tall with a longish tail. His flight gives him a hawk-like appearance as he glides over the landscape. Black sideburns frame a light face and yellow eyes.
These shy birds of the north woods appear to be sleeker than other owls, because they don't have lots of fluffy feathers like their cousins. They feed on mice, voles, lemmings, and an occasional ptarmigan or ruffed grouse. Hawk owls are only winter visitors to the states. Soon they will return to northern Canada to start their resting duties.
The past few days have brought some sunshine and warmer temperatures to Southwest Wisconsin. When the thermometer gets up to 30 degrees here in January, I can't complain. The other night, the nighttime low here was 32 degrees, the same as it was in Gainesville, Florida. Go figure!
Spring is in the air as we head into February. The gray squirrels feel it as they chase each other up and down the trees and across the yard. By early March there will be young squirrels. The cotton-tailed rabbits are also playing spring games, chasing each other around in the moonlight. Around mid-April I'll be seeing baby bunnies in the garden and yard.
February is the month when the first signs of spring become evident. By the end of the month, there will be several kinds of hardy birds who will be nesting. The Great Horned owl, the Prairie Horned lark, and the American woodcock will be incubating eggs while there is still snow on the ground.
The Horned owl lays her eggs in an old Red-tailed hawk's nest high in the canopy of trees. Here the two eggs will hatch in the safety of the treetops. The lark and the woodcock lay their clutches in small grass nests on the ground. A late snowstorm may completely cover the nest, forcing the birds to nest over again.
The days are becoming noticeably longer now, and there have been some beautiful pink and lavender sunrises. The sunsets too have been quite spectacular lately. Yesterday I watched a majestic bald eagle flying along high above the river, with a purple yellow-orange sunset in the background. Sometimes the most beautiful sights are at the end of the day.
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