Great Horned Owls: Swift Silent Predators

I went out on the porch the other evening, and was delighted to hear the soft hooting of a pair of Great Horned Owls, who may be establishing territories right now.  Within minutes my phone buzzed with a friend’s photo of a Great Horned Owl over near the marsh, and I scrambled out to see, leaving dinner and befuddled guests at the table.  Sure enough, this regal friend was perched above the marsh watching the sunset.

We’ve been fortunate to be able to watch several pairs of owls raise chicks on the island over the years.  The first nest I noticed was in an old red-tailed hawk nest near Lone Cedar dock.  At first, we noticed her in January at the Christmas bird count, and it was hard to even tell she was in the nest.

But by March, we could even get some clear looks at the youngster from the end of the dock.

One day we got there right after the youngster had eaten and before getting cleaned up.  It was a good reminder that nature isn’t always pretty.

We really enjoyed watching that mother watch her baby from further and further away as hi got older and more able to thermoregulate.

Creating a Suitable Nesting Spot for an Owl

It’s possible to create such suitable habitat for owls that they move right in.  One neighbor set up a sort of cup shaped nest made out of chicken wire, adding landscape cloth and spanish moss, in the crook of an oak tree.  This pair of Great Horned Owls moved in shortly thereafter.

As the youngsters grew, they left the cozy confines of the nest and began to branch out.

This close-up shows a young great horned owl getting ready to take his or her first flight.  Look at the talons!

Another neighbor returned home after a holiday to find a great horned owl nesting in a window box adjacent to the home. This gave them the best front row seat!  Sometimes young owlets are kicked out of the nest by an older sibling, and when that happened here, we simply picked up the fallen youngster and returned him to the nest.

Great Horned Owl

The sibling seemed to be a little surprised that his competition had returned to the window box, but tolerated him until they both fledged.  Parents brought food to the box and stayed nearby but mostly out of sight.  Whenever the young great horned owls felt alarmed, they tried to make themselves look bigger.

Northern Flicker delivered as food for the young Great Horned Owls

Sometimes they’re nicknamed “Flying Tiger” because of that catlike appearance and their ability to sneak up on unsuspecting prey.  They can fly almost silently, and they often hunt during the crepuscular hours (dawn and dusk).

I love the way their eyes always seem to be that bright gold.  Here is some of the footage that didn’t make it into the narrated video.

Owls are fierce and opportunistic.  This update on our Osprey Nest shows how the Ospreys built a nest during the day and an owl stopped by at night to check their progress and eat their snacks.  

And finally, if you’re not aware of the Great Horned Owls named Bonnie and Clyde who displaced a pair of nesting Bald Eagles on Farmer Derek’s farm, here’s a recap: