The Great-horned owlets are here and they’re kicking mom out
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In the early morning light, I headed into a thicket of Russian olives and other bushes near Mud Lake when I heard a soft “whishing” sound. A large Great-horned owl buzzed within two feet of my head as I ducked the approaching mad bird – I was lucky to still have my cap on. While perched, it continued to snap at me with its sharp beak as I regained my composure and tried to stare it down.
It was the male that had buzzed me to let me know that I had come close enough to the nest. It remained perched on a branch about 15 feet from the nest as I sat on a fallen log to study the nest and its occupants. I could barely make out the tail feathers of the female as three owlets looked at me from different positions in the nest.
As I watched, the female was forced to leave the nest as her children began spreading their featherless wings, slapping her face. The male flew off but returned immediately as I moved a short distance to get some better pictures. He even made another agnostic attack when I back-tracked away from the nest to get a better angle.
I visited four other Great-horned owl nests that morning and found that the babies had hatched in all of them; but only in that first one did the male show any aggression toward me. I had not visited that nest before as I had located it from about 200 yards and had not approached it the previous week.
In one of the other nests I had been watching for the last month a female sat on it during snow and rain storms. That nest has produced four babies while all the others have only two or three that I have seen.
Great-horned owls start nesting during February in a feather-lined nest deep enough to hide the female except for her two “horns” sticking above the edge. These nests are not newly constructed as they are usually old, slightly remodeled magpie or hawk nests built several years previous.
During the cold setting month, the female is forced to stay on the nest to keep the eggs from freezing, so her partner is required to bring food to her and then during March when the owlets are hatched, she remains bed-ridden. Zumba is not part of her daily routine.
The owlets that we see showing above the nest are about a month old and both parents are able to provide food for them. They will stay near the nest until they are about three months old – no early reprieve for the parents – as the owlet’s food intake resembles that of teenage boys.
If you want to see these beautiful birds, the next two months is the best time when the babes are flightless and resemble brown fuzz-balls sitting on limbs. Oftentimes they will be sitting next to each other, with the older siblings positioning the “runt” of the family between them as they wait for food to be delivered.
Good places to locate these birds are in cemeteries, in large mature cottonwood groves or in thickets of Russian olives and hawthorns. If you live near large mature trees, check on the ground under them and you may find the “pellets” of undigestible remains from their meals.
In you forays in the wilds, be on the lookout for the Burrowing owls along the desert roads as they are moving in at a rapid pace. Also, right now Market Lake is getting exciting as the Canadian goslings are hatching, shorebirds and herons are claiming their nesting spots and the arrival of the colorful songbirds are just beginning.
But while walking through or near brushy areas, be aware – both daddy and mama owls may mistake you for a predator looking to eat one of their chicks.