Pressure from Parliament

Top predators are found at the peak of the food chain. They place pressure on the lower level organisms as they hunt. Owls are an example of a top predator and if found in a group they are referred to as a parliament…not hard to tell they have quite a bit of power in the natural world. In this module, the children will learn about owls and other birds of prey, such as eagles and osprey, which commonly nest in Prince Edward Island. Through learning about these birds, important topics in nature can be taught, including food chains and webs, predator –prey relationships, symbiosis, nocturnal living and adaptations. Various games will be played that help the children get an understanding of these topics.

Lesson 1 - Owls

Birds of prey are birds that hunt while in flight, using their keen senses. They have specialized adaptations for hunting. Owls are an example of birds of prey. In Prince Edward Island, there are 5 species of owls believed to or known to nest here. Three are fairly common, while others are rarely seen.  Introduce the children to owl, the 5 different species; show them pictures and discuss their specialized features.

Barred Owl

The Barred Owl is listed as fairly common (1-9 sighting per day) in Prince Edward Island forests. They grow to be 50-56cm in height. They have no ear tufts. Have black eyes and a yellowish bill. Their legs and feet are feathered. Barred owls make their nest in hollow hardwood trees. They lay 2-3 dull white and rounded eggs in mid April or May. Their call can be identified by who-who-who-whoo-who-who-who-woooah (who cooks for you, who cooks for you all).

Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl is fairly common (1-9 sightings per day) in Prince Edward Island. Their average height is 50-60cm. The name Great Horned Owl is comes from the prominent tufts on their head; they do not have horns. Great Horned owls build nests using a platform of sticks or remnants of crows, hawks or eagle nests, often lined with dead leaves. They nest in the heaviest woods available, away fro human activity.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

The Northern Saw-whet owl is fairly common (1-9 sighting per day) in Prince Edward Island’s. This owl grows to 19-22cm in height, making it the smallest owl nesting in P.E.I. They build their nests in hollow trees where they will lay 4 – 7 dull white and round eggs in early April. When food supplies are scarce it is not uncommon for this owl to travel into towns and cities looking for a snack. The Saw-whet’s call is tang-tang-tang-tang-tang.

Long-eared Owl

The Long-eared owl, named for the conspicuous long ear tufts erected near the middle of its head, is rarely (1-5 times per season) seen in Prince Edward Island. It is similar to the Great Horned Owl, but smaller growing 35-42cm in height. The Long-eared owl never builds it own nest, laying 4 to 5 eggs in an abandoned crow or hawk nest. They prefer evergreen woods, nesting near the edge by a cleared space. 

Short-eared Owl

The Short-eared owl, named for its inconspicuous ear tufts, is uncommon (1-12 sighting per fortnight) to Prince Edward Island.  They are similar to the Long-eared owl growing to 35-42cm. The Short-eared owls prefer to nest in the ground in open country. These owls are crepuscular or twilight hunters. They lay 4-8 white, slight rounded eggs in mid-May.

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Lesson 2 - More Birds of Prey

Eagles, harriers, hawks and osprey are all birds of prey. In Prince Edward Island there is one species of each that is fairly common, with others sighted rarely, occasionally or here by accident. Introduce the children to these four birds, briefly describe them, show them picture and talk about their adaptations.

Bald Eagle

The Bald Eagle is fairly common to Prince Edward Island with an average of 1-9 sighting per day. They may grow 78 to 110cm in height, with a wing span of 1.68 to 2.44m. They build their nests out of large sticks and line them with decaying plant material. The nests are usually 10-25m above the ground in large trees. In mid-April 2 or maybe 3 eyes are laid.

Northern Harrier

The Northern Harrier is listed as fairly common (1-9 sighting per day) in Prince Edward Island. They grow anywhere from 45 to 60 cm in height. Northern Harriers nest on the ground in wet meadows. A female will lay 3 to 6 white or bluish eggs.

Sharp Shinned Hawk

The Sharp Shinned Hawk is a fairly common (1-9 sightings per day) bird of prey in Prince Edward Island. They nest in evergreen or coniferous forests, preferring spruce trees. When food is scarce these hawks are often seen in towns or cities. On average they grow to 25-35cm. Their nests are made of small sticks with finer twigs, often found at low heights along the edge or opening of a path. Sharp Shinned Harriers lay 3-6 eggs in May.


Osprey may be seen 1 to 9 times a day, listing them as fairly common to Prince Edward Island. This bird of prey may be 53-61cm. They nest in dead trees, 6 to 20 cm up. In the spring they will lay 2-4 dull white, heavily blotched with brown eggs. Ospreys are good diver and their main food source is fish.

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Lesson 3 - Eagles vs. Owls

This week compare and contrast bald eagles and great horned owls. Both these birds are birds of prey, but physically they look quite different. Discuss the characteristics the birds share, such as sharp talons and a beak for ripping. Talk about how the birds behaviours and appearance differs.

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Lesson 4 and 5 - Food Chains and Webs

Birds of prey are found on the top of food chain. Introduce the food chain of an owl to the children, discuss the importance of food chains and all the links, and introduce term such as carnivore, omnivore and herbivore. This is a big topic and a number of games are available to play, doing this over two weeks or more is possible.

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