Mysteries of the Mighty Meadow Vole

A close up photo of a meadow vole in the dark.

Photo Credit: Phil Myers, Animal Diversity Web –


Eastern coyotes loves meadow voles. So do red foxes. Our near blizzard-like conditions followed by sub-zero temperatures earlier this week did nothing to slow down their love affair with these tiny creatures that remain active all winter and thrive under a wintry blanket of snow. However, it’s a one way love affair because these slightly pudgy, meaty, mouse-sized morsels that we call voles are delectable delicacies for the wild canids that must continue to hunt no matter what Mother Nature brings. As a matter of fact, there is hardly a winter active predator in Oakland County that hasn’t developed a taste for the meadow voles in our wintry midst, and the local list of vole-snatchers includes owls, hawks, mink, weasels, opossums, skunks, raccoons, feral cats and domestic cats. Continue reading

Raptors Enthrall West Bloomfield Families

A close-up photograph of a Barred Owl taken indoors. The owl, with large brown eyes, a yellow beak, and brown-and-white-striped plumage, looks at the camera.


The first snows of the season came early this year, adding majestic beauty to the woods of Oakland County. Walk quietly in woodlands at dusk and the rhythmic music of our “eight hooter,” the Barred Owl, may enliven your journey into nature’s way with its unique musical repertoire. It’s perhaps best described as mournful, rather rhythmic eight-hoot baritone melody of “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for y’all?” Sharp listeners will note the distinctive ending, a drawled-out note that is sometimes described as a southern twang. I am lucky, for every now and then I hear and see Barred Owls just a few hundred yards from my house. However, on Tuesday evening I had the pleasure of going eye to eye with a Barred Owl, and other species of raptors, from within the comfort of the Marshbank Lodge, a beautiful facility of West Bloomfield Parks located within Marshbank Park, an easy to access 108-acre park in a suburban neighborhood of the Wilder Side of Oakland County.

A barred owl, sits perched on branch on a snowy, winter day. It has brown-and-white-striped plumage and its eyes are closed. Continue reading

Barred Owls: Songsters of the Swamps



The swamps and wetlands of Oakland County fell silent after heavy frost laced the landscape. Green frogs and bullfrogs are now lying on top of the muddy bottoms of shallow wetlands. No more ker-plunks of turtles attempting to discreetly slide off sunning logs. Except for the occasional warning crack of the tail of a beaver slamming forcefully against water, there are few surprise noises to be heard near the near magical world of the bog and the swamp. There is however one notable exception: the melodious and rich baritone hooting of our beautiful Barred Owls, an owl that some refer to as the “swamp owl”Barred Owls (Strix varia) are breaking the silence of the swamps. Continue reading

Barred Owls: Ghostly Voice of the Swamp


“Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” That’s the classic ghostly call of the Barred Owl, an owl very much at home in Oakland County. The rising and falling melody with a hint of a southern drawl in the last few syllables reminds naturalists that the owl’s breeding season is here. Yet, others less admiring of the raucous chorus of barred owls hooting back and forth may describe the sounds as the music of a troop of rowdy monkeys. That description  is very close to the truth.

Follow the Cornell Lab of Ornithology link to hear the calls of barred owls: 

Every now and then, a hiker might hear or even see a barred owl perched on a tree limb in daylight. Oakland County Parks, Huron-Clinton Metroparks and the State Recreation Areas of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (located in Oakland County) all host these beautiful raptors of the night. Barred owls favor wooded wetlands with nearby open areas for hunting; that means trailside swaths of Addison Oaks, Highland Oaks, Independence Oaks, Lyon Oaks, Rose Oaks and Springfield Oaks county parks are perfect barred owl habitats.img_9847

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Barred Owls: Winged Warriors of Wooded Wetlands

Wilder Side of Oakland County

img_9820Oakland County is home to the barred owl. This well-camouflaged raptor with soulful brown eyes and vertical stripes thrives in secrecy in wooded wetlands and the forest edge and is heard more often than seen.  Its loud nine syllables rising and falling high-pitched hoots are unmistakable:   “Who cooks for you?  Whoooo cooks for you-all!”     Naturalists love to share the fact that the owl song seems to have a southern drawl.  And it does! And when several barred owls hoot back and forth the best description might just be monkeys chattering.

img_9849February is the peak of breeding season and even with woodlands  deep with snow  and temperature hovering in single digits barred owls are preparing nest sites; usually  in  tree cavities. These year round avian residents of Oakland County favor large protected parklands and wilder sections of the county; ideal habitat for hunting and breeding.  Addison Oaks, Highland Oaks, Independence Oaks and Rose Oaks County Parks might just be at the top of their real estate listings.

img_9847Ornithology literature clearly states that barred owls hunt by night and roost on tree branches or in tree cavities by day.   However the barred owl in these images was hunting in typical barred owl fashion late in the afternoon last week in northern Oakland County.  The owl selects a tree limb that provides a bird’s eye view of a meadow or field and then it waits.  And watches.  And listens.   The slightest sound or motion draws the owl’s attention.

img_9841When the owl is certain of the exact location of dinner – a mouse McMeal that may be moving under the snow- it glides down on silent wings and makes the kill.  And after a successful hunt it’s time for a nap on a tree branch in the wilder side of Oakland County

img_9835Text and photos by Jonathan Schechter, Nature Education Writer, Oakland County Parks