By Sandra Upson
This Sunday, the subreddit /r/superbowl will host a gathering of hoo-ligans. They’ll be fans of the Nocturnal Flying League. Real birds of a feather. Starting at 6 pm ET, the Superb Owl community will kick off an Ask Me Anything with biologist James Duncan, who has spent his entire adult life studying owls and a mere three weeks playing football.
Superb Owls are everywhere! Trader Joe’s has used the term on its in-store signage; Google now responds to a “superb owl” search with the details of the game and a cartoon bird; and the wordplay showed up as a category on Jeopardy this week. A brewery called Parallel 49 even released a limited-edition kolsch with the name.
OK, the joke might be wearing thin. But you know what? Owls are real head-turners. Why else would the internet be lousy with owl cams? Their night livesput the most Animal House–inspired college kids to shame. Their unmoving eyes and oversized, disc-like faces are hypnotic, and those power brows can outshine even Cara Delevingne. Barn owls, screech owls, snowies — their faces are among the most iconic in the animal kingdom. Why so fond? “My argument is that they look like us,” says wildlife researcher Denver Holt, founder and president of the Owl Research Institute.
To witness owls doing owly things, turn first to the Montana owl cams set up by the Owl Research Institute and Explore.org. Livestreams are always a gamble, but the three feeds embedded below tend to provide reliable owl sightings.
One camera, trained on a site where long-eared owls like to roost, makes for particularly lively viewing. Long-eared owls are social, and at times you can see almost a dozen of them clustered in the same tree. “It might be the only camera in the world showing communal groups of owls,” says Holt. It’s an actual, real-life parliament of owls.
Like many human parliaments, this collective spends most of its day asleep. You might see some stretching, preening, the occasional snap to attention when an owl notices nearby movement. But the nice thing about sleeping owls is they stay put and you can gaze at them for ages.
Another strong contender from the Owl Research Institute is a camera that tends to capture great horned owls: “the tough guy, the football player of the owl world,” Holt calls them. “They’ve got the body of a lineman and can knock down the biggest prey.” These owls often show up on the group’s osprey cam, and they don’t always like to share the limelight: Last April, a great horned owl dive-bombed an osprey on his perch three days in a row. Now that’s a flying tackle.
These birds are more solitary, so you’ll witness no great gatherings on these cams. You might see a tête-à-tête, though: this species tends to mate early in the year, so you could catch a male and female owl hooting at each other in courtship.
If a great gray owl is more your thing, you can often spot one or two hanging out on the snag in the livestream below. “Even in this polar vortex, the great grays are out there, gaining weight while other animals struggle to survive,” says Duncan. Duncan and his colleagues at Discover Owls, a Canadian conservation group, have dissected thousands of great gray pellets to learn that they eat almost exclusively meadow voles. In the winter the voles tend to be active under thick snow cover, which means the owls rely primarily on subtle sounds to snipe their meals.
Should these cameras turn up empty, the Owl Research Institute has more livestreams up on Explore.org. Or you can visit the live feeds of two barn owl nest boxes provided by the Port of Stockton, in California. The cameras are trained on two of 20 barn owl nest boxes the port has installed to enlist more owls in the control of an overactive rodent population. Two nest boxes are currently livestreamed with both interior and exterior views available. If its inhabitant is facing the right direction, you can gaze directly into their heart-shaped faces … and send your own heart prancing into the end zone.
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