I was on my way to an event at the school gym here in Strafford, Vermont, the other evening when I was called over by a bunch of kids who said they found an owl that they thought was sick or hurt because it was perched on a picnic table and didn’t fly away when it was approached.
An hour or so later I walked over to the playground and found a Barred Owl still perched on the picnic table. It didn’t move when I approached, but instead it began mantling. Mantling is a behavior that vultures and birds of prey engage in when they have a prey item on the ground. They crouch and spread their wings in an apparent effort to hide the carcass from other birds that might like to steal a bite. Almost every nature documentary ever made in the Serengeti has at least one shot of a vulture mantling over a dead wildebeest, trying desperately (and usually futilely) to keep the bounty for itself.
When I got closer, I realized that this owl WAS trying to hide something that it was eating – another Barred Owl!
You can see the feathers from the victim spread across the table. I don’t know whether this particular owl had killed the other one, or whether it simply had the good fortune of finding the carcass. Barred Owls are known to scavenge on carcasses of a variety of animals, but observations in the Pacific Northwest suggest that they will at least occasionally attack and even kill the closely related Northern Spotted Owl. Reports of Barred Owls killing other Barred Owls are lacking, and so we have to assume that this is not a common event.
In any case, this Barred Owl spent several hours feeding on the carcass and, by the scanty remains left the following morning, must have spent most of the day digesting this rather sizable holiday meal.