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Twelve Owls

Laura Erickson

Publication Year: 2011

Meet the saw-whet, the tiniest of Minnesota’s owls, a mere eight inches from the tip of its blunt tail to the top of its rounded head. The simplest way to find one is to listen for the scolding calls of a flock of agitated chickadees. Or, if you’re lucky, you might witness the male throwing all caution to the wind and “co-co-co-co-ing” for a mate, inching forward on every note like the bird in a cuckoo clock.

From this fetching little creature to the magnificent great gray, the owls of Minnesota have found the perfect spokeswoman in this book, which is as charming as it is informative. Written with wit and a remarkable command of bird lore by Laura Erickson, well known to public radio listeners and birdwatchers everywhere, Twelve Owls also features enchanting pictures, from the long view to up-close detail, by award-winning artist Betsy Bowen.

“Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?” the barred owl asks, breaking into a duet that sounds like maniacal laughter when he gets lucky. The great gray, the biggest of the state’s—and perhaps the world’s—owls, hurls herself into the snow and fetches up a meadow vole, leaving behind a beautiful snow angel.

The telling detail, the natural drama, the identifying features, and the environmental story all unfold in Erickson’s engaging account of what to look for, where to look, and what these much-mythologized but very real denizens of the bird kingdom might be doing in the state of Minnesota.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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p. vii-vii

Artist’s Note

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p. ix-ix

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pp. 1-6

If you are reading these words in the United States or Canada, there is an excellent chance that a wild owl is roosting or hunting or incubating eggs or brooding chicks less than ten miles from you at this very moment. If you are in Minnesota, chances are an owl is less than half that distance away from you. Of the twelve ...

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Northern Saw-whet Owl

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pp. 7-12

The October night was cold and still. The birder walked in the beam of a flashlight along a path through the woods to a tiny plywood shack that serves as a bird banding field station. The shelves were strewn with data notebooks, a few reference books, necklace-like strings of aluminum bands of various sizes, calipers, rulers, special ...

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Eastern Screech-Owl

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pp. 13-16

Two Eastern Screech-Owls were sleeping side by side, wings touching, on a frozen Valentine’s Day morning. Their feathers were fluffed against the cold, their eyes closed, and their heads tilted down a bit as if resting their chins on their chests. It was bright and sunny outside, but inside the roost box it was peaceful and dark. They were a well-matched duo. Like most Eastern ...

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Burrowing Owl

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pp. 17-20

The photographer was visiting an active prairie dog town in the Black Hills of South Dakota, snapping photo after photo of prairie dog antics. The little rodents were endlessly entertaining, but she seemed vaguely dissatisfied, often looking beyond the prairie dogs in search of something else. Finally, she spotted what she was ...

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Boreal Owl

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pp. 21-26

The January predawn twilight was quiet and still except for the occasional creaking of a birch straining against the bitter cold. A tiny owl sat on a branch, quiet but not still, her head turning every which way, her eyes and ears straining to detect the slightest movement or sound. She ...

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Barn Owl

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pp. 27-32

In August 1995, a small band of Minnesota birders were riding in two vans along an Arizona country road lined with soybean fields, en route between Green Valley and Madera Canyon. The sun had just risen, and the soft morning light filled them with hope. They would see at least a few good birds before breakfast back in Green Valley. One of them spied what looked like a dead raptor ...

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Short-eared Owl

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pp. 33-38

The Short-eared Owl sat on her nest on a warm morning in late May, incubating two eggs and brooding two chicks. She had a pleasantly full belly—last night her mate had delivered an amazing seven voles. All but one were quite small, but even a tiny vole can provide three or four mouthfuls for newly hatched owlets, and the two chicks that had hatched so far were just four and two ...

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Long-eared Owl

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pp. 39-44

During the last week of October 1991, a storm system so huge that it was nicknamed “the Perfect Storm” raged over the Atlantic Ocean. The magnitude of the system blocked the normal west-to-east storm patterns over the eastern half of the United States, forcing a huge low-pressure system from the Gulf of Mexico to rush north instead of east. Between October 31 and November ...

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Northern Hawk Owl

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pp. 45-48

Alarge van filled with birders moved slowly up and down country roads near Meadowlands, Minnesota. The birders stared out the windows, their eyes intently focused on every treetop. Suddenly someone yelled, “Northern Hawk Owl!” The owl was little more than a dot, at least a hundred yards away atop a black spruce. For most of them, this wasn’t just an unsatisfying view of a bird new ...

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Barred Owl

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pp. 49-54

Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all? Birdwatchers often use mnemonic tricks to help them recognize birdcalls. In most cases, people don’t settle on just one choice. Does a White-throated Sparrow sing “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” or “Oh, sweet Canada, Canada, Canada”? Does a flying goldfinch call out “perchickory, perchickory” or “potato chip, potato chip”? We choose phrases that suggest ...

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Great Horned Owl

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pp. 55-60

“Mommy, look! There’s a cat up a tree!” They were overdue at the child’s grandparents, and there was no safe way to slow down on I-35, but the woman glanced out the window and saw the silhouette on a large limb in the snowy woodlot as they raced past. Neither she nor her son ever realized the animal they saw was not a cat but a Great Horned ...

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Snowy Owl

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pp. 61-64

One of the most famous owls in the world is a fictional character: Harry Potter’s Hedwig. In J. K. Rowling’s novels, Hedwig is a female, but the birds chosen to portray her in the movies have all been males. Healthy female Snowy Owls can tip the scales at over five pounds, while males weigh less than four pounds—a hefty difference that was especially significant in ...

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Great Gray Owl

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pp. 65-68

The owl perched on a tiny tamarack branch, staring at one spot on the ground below, his ears, hidden behind huge facial disks, listening for the tiniest squeak or rustle beneath the snow. The birder pulled over, got out of the car, and stood transfixed. The owl looked up and met her eyes but within seconds turned to gaze at the ground again. A smooth, thick layer of new snow covered ...

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About the Author

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p. 69-69

Laura Erickson has been writing and speaking about birds, and promoting their conservation, for thirty-five ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816678761
E-ISBN-10: 0816678766
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816677580

Page Count: 64
Publication Year: 2011