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Every week there are new marvels to look for in the outdoors, and Discover Nature highlights these attractions. The Missouri Department of Conservation’s Josh Hartwig brings us the stories of river otters, luna moths, red buds, and other actors as they take center stage in nature’s theater.You can hear Discover Nature, Mondays at 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m.

Discover Nature: Great Horned Owl

Missouri Department of Conservation.

November 29 - December 5

Discover Nature this week as Great Horned Owls begin to court. These large, nocturnal birds occur in deep forests, open areas with small woodlots and sometimes in urban areas.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, Great Horned Owls initiate nesting earlier in the year than any other Missouri native bird.

Of the four kinds of owls that reside in Missouri year round, only the great horned owl has a thriving population. The remainder is declining in numbers, due to the destruction of nesting and feeding areas, shooting and trapping, and the use of insecticides and rat poisons.

The owl is among the few birds depicted on cave walls by prehistoric man and was treated with religious respect by the Greeks and Romans, who credited owls with great wisdom and knowledge.

But if you’ve described someone you admire as a “wise old owl” you haven’t actually given a compliment. Although they look stately and wise, they’re not particularly intelligent. However, their 4 to 5 foot stature, exceptional sight and hearing, and silent flight abilities combine to make a highly impressive bird.

Owls serve an important role in controlling populations of rodents - such as mice, rats and rabbits. They also tend to select the slower, weaker or diseased individuals-which makes for a stronger and healthier prey population. The number of prey required to support each owl is so great that there simply can’t be very many owls.

Because owls could easily become extinct if their environment deteriorated, they’re protected by strict laws and penalties. Some things you can do to help sustain Missouri’s owl population include protecting possible nesting sites such as large, hollow trees or old buildings when possible; placing nesting boxes for barn owls and screech owls; and being conservative when using pesticides. Remember that owls will control rodent pests if encouraged to populate an area.

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