The AP Biology seniors from the Westminster Schools of Augusta were visiting late in the day. The plan was to walk the boardwalk and then investigate macroinvertebrate samples in the outdoor classroom. Several things slowed our progress around the boardwalk.
First, we saw a Barred Owl (Strix varia) fly across the boardwalk ahead of us as we walked between #14 and #15. In the owl's talons was prey of some sort. We caught a brief glimse of the prey's yellow belly when the owl first perched low in a nearby tree. The owl quickly relocated higher up in another tree. As the owl flew, it appeared that its prey item was a bird. Looking through our binoculars, we could see the head of the bird (red arrow), which confirmed our initial identification of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius). Although small mammals and invertebrates account for over 90% of the Barred Owl's diet, the owl is an opportunistic hunter with birds being approximately 5% of the diet. Sapsuckers maintain their sap wells on a daily basis. Possibly, this sapsucker was too occupied with its duties to notice the silent approach of death. We've all seen Barred Owls hunting and catching crayfish, but never have we seen an owl with a bird!