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Great horned owl

Bushy-tailed woodrat (aka Packrat)

 

Great Horned Owl

The Great horned owl

The Great horned owl is one of fifteen species of owls found in Wyoming at various times of the year. Excellent nocturnal hunters, Great horned owls can be easily identified by their physical characteristics and distinctive calls.

 

The Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is the most common and widely distributed owl species in North America. It is extremely adaptable and able to occupy a diverse range of habitats. The Great horned owl is generally camouflaged with horizontal barring on its underside and complex brown mottling markings on its upperside, both which help it blend in with the bark of many tree species in which they nest and roost. Great horned owls can also be found roosting near barns or in abandoned buildings. Their characteristic horn-like tufts of feathers, which are neither horns nor ears, may add to their camouflage but are also thought to serve as visual cues during territorial and mating interactions. The Great horned owl is the largest owl in Wyoming, sitting almost 2 feet high, weighing from 2.5 to 5 pounds, with a wingspan of over 4 feet. The stereotypical ‘hoot’ is the most common territorial call, but other common sounds of a Great horned owl include shrieks, barks, cat-like meows, coos, and beak snapping.

Great horned owls are common in Uinta County. Another type of owl that can be found in Uinta County is the Barn owl. UCCD is interested in documenting sightings of both Great horned owls and Barn owls in the county. Let us know when and where you have seen one by emailing klott.uccd@gmail.com.

See our October 2020 newsletter to read about the differences

between Great horned owls and Barn owls. 

 

Bushy-Tailed Woodrat - also known as the Packrat

The Bushy-Tailed

Woodrat

Commonly found on the inside of old, abandoned buildings are broken floorboards, peeling wallpaper, and thick nests of sticks protruding from crevices in the walls and ceilings. Similar gnarls of sticks can be found between rock ledges and in the corners of the occasional cave. These are most likely evidence of a long-time resident of western North America: Neotoma cinerea. Common names include the Bushy-tailed woodrat, packrat, and trade rat. While its nests are certainly noticeable, the Bushy-tailed woodrat is rarely seen due to its nocturnal nature. Below are some facts about this illusive rodent.

 

Appearance

The Bushy-tailed woodrat can weigh from 300-600 grams for males and 250-350 grams for females. This wide range of weight reflects its large geographical distribution, with the larger woodrats living in the far north. Males and females are sexually dimorphic; meaning that they differ strongly in appearance. In the case of Bushy-tailed woodrats, the males are 8-10% larger than females (pestcontrolcanada.com).

Bushy-tailed woodrats have large black eyes, round furless ears, grey and brown fur on the back and sides and white or buff fur on the undersides and feet. The male woodrat’s body length can reach over 8 inches, not including the tail. The tail is slightly shorter than the body and is covered in bushy long fur.

 

Behavior

The Bushy-tailed woodrat is nocturnal and active year-round. It is solitary, with male and female territories overlapping. While the actual rodent is rarely seen, its presence is usually noticed by the large nests the woodrat builds out of sticks, foliage, bones, and any number of human items. It is sometimes called a trade rat because of its habit of dropping whatever it is carrying in exchange for a new, perceivably better item. These nests can be found in rock ledges, boulder fields, and very noticeably in the interiors of abandoned buildings.

 

Food Habits

Bushy-tailed woodrats are considered herbivores, with a flexible diet that includes leaves, seeds, and shrubs. They will dry their food on a rock before storing it in middens found within the nest. The same woodrat homes are used by succeeding generations, and over time much of the forage stored in the middens has been preserved by the crystalized urine from the woodrats. Scientists have been able to analyze some of these middens and found that the contents can be thousands of years old; this provides a strong picture into the past conditions and vegetation.

 

Life history

The breeding season for Bushy-tailed woodrats runs from January to August, with the peak occurring somewhere between March and June. Gestation lasts 27 to 32 days, and litter sizes range from 1 to 6. Young are weaned between 26 to 30 days and dispersal occurs at 2 months. Sexual maturity occurs around 11 months. While female young may stay closer to where they were born, males tend to disperse further in search of their own territory to defend.

 

Interspecific Interactions

Bushy-tailed woodrats are rarely a problem with humans unless they build unwanted nests in manmade structures. While they have been known to carry parasites responsible for disease (such as fleas and ticks responsible for bubonic plague or spotted fever), these are rarely transferred to humans because of the low frequency of contact between people and Bushy-tailed woodrats.

Some of the bushy-tailed woodrat’s predators include weasels, bobcats, coyotes, great horned owls, and red tailed hawks.  

Uinta County Conservation District

204 East Sage St 

PO Box 370

Lyman, WY 82937

307 787 3070

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