Bend photographers flock to see barred owl

Many gather in Old Mill for a glimpse

People flock to Old Mill to watch owl

BEND, Ore. - A barred owl in Bend is attracting a lot of attention, so much so our newsroom has been flooded with pictures.

People are stopping in the Old Mill District to get an up close and personal look.

"We say maybe he escaped from the High Desert Museum," Paul Frazier jokingly said Friday "He's so unafraid of the people!"

Over the last few weeks, people have lined the footbridges across the Deschutes River, hoping to get a glimpse at the owl.

"It's fun to just see Mother Nature at her terms and see what you can get," said John Hart.

Hart has been fascinated by the bird and made his second trip to the river bank Friday, trying to get the perfect picture.

"He caught a mouse," said Hart. "He was on this post, and he swooped down, and he actually saw him catch the mouse. He's got it in his talons and he hasn't taken the time to eat it yet."

Though the owl is a rare sight for some, others say their population is on the rise here in the Pacific Northwest.

"Barred owls are considered to be a threat to spotted owls now," said Craig Miller of the East Cascade Audubon Society. "They are a major concern that biologists have."

Miller says the birds of prey were common east of the Mississippi River. In the 1950s, the owls headed west.

"They've taken advantage of the (timber) clear cuts in Canada," said Miller. "They spread up into Canada and eventually to the West Coast."

Best known as the "hoot owl" for its distinctive call, the barred owl is believed to be responsible in part for the decline of the Northern spotted owl, which became known -- and scorned by many in timber towns -- during the 1980s, when its endangered species status caused a sharp drop in logging operations. Experts later said the more aggressive barred owl out-competes the spotted owls for habitat, causing its population to decline.

Whatever the barred owl's role is in that controversy, as photographers from across Central Oregon flock to the Deschutes River, only Mother Nature can predict how long Bend's newest celebrity will stick around.

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