Owlets are leaving their nests - East Idaho News
Living the Wild Life

Owlets are leaving their nests

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Working my way through a willow thicket along the Teton River west of Rexburg, I came eye-to-eye with an adult Northern saw-whet owl. I stood still as my eyes scanned the near-by branches, finally locating one of the owlets sitting motionless about 30 feet from the adult. We stared at each other for a moment, took a few pictures and backed slowly away to allow them to continue sitting in their cover.

As I was leaving the thicket, I ran into two other owlets sunning themselves near an old wood duck nest which they had recently left. In 2020, I had placed several nests near the South Fork of the Teton River, and the nest was one the saw-whets used to raise their young.

Saw-whets have a very interesting nesting program with the female setting on the eggs exclusively while the male delivers food to her. They nest in cavities in trees by using old woodpecker nests unless a man-made device is available. Once the eggs hatch, she will raise the owlets until they are about 14 to 18 days old, keeping a very clean nest. Once the youngest is about 18 days old – she abandons the nest, leaving the male to raise the kids.

Adult saw-whet owl | Bill Schiess
An adult Northern saw-whet owl tending nearby owlets.

I guess she gets sick and tired of the family life, leaving the male to raise the youngsters. He does a good job raising and feeding them; except he does not clean up the messy house. For about two to three weeks, all the leftovers and poop build up – stinking to high heaven. Often, this is the best way to find one of their nests; you can smell it as you wander through the thickets.

Long eared2 24
An adult Long-eared owl watches over four owlets.

The saw-whets are not the only owls that have owlets roosting around near their nests. Long-eared and the great-horned owls have also had a successful nesting season this spring. I have located two long-eared nests with one producing five while the other nest has four owlets still roosting in the trees where they were hatched.

Long eared3 24
A Long-eared owlet in a tree near its nest.

There have been seven great-horned owl nests that have from three to five owlets produced this spring. These parents are extremely busy hunting and gathering food for their growing kids. With all the wind that we have been having, some of these have been blown off their perch and end up on the ground, but somehow, they make it back in the trees. If you find one on the ground, leave it alone, the parents will feed and take care of it.

Great horned owlets | Bill Schiess
Two young great-horned owls keep each other warm on a cold morning.

If you know where an owl nest is, or if you find one, enjoy them from a distance. Saw-whets are usually very tame, but do not try to touch or catch them. The adult long-eared and great-horned owls can be skittish and may abandon their chicks if they are harassed.

The burrowing owls are still on most of the nests, but they should be coming out of the ground in the next couple of weeks. Enjoy them at a distance also.

On Wednesday, I saw my first hummingbird of the season. It was a black-chinned one and it was feeding off one of the orange halves that I put out. So, I put out my feeders with one part sugar to four parts of water mix. It did not take long before there were three feeding at the feeder.

If you haven’t put out oranges or grape jelly, the tanagers and orioles should be showing up any day. The colorful lazuli buntings have been coming to my feeders during the last week. It is time for all the colorful birds to be enjoyed as they visit your backyard and area reserves.

Have a great week, and thanks to everyone who has contacted me about what we are seeing. It has been a fun spring!!!

Adult great-horned owls. | Bill Schiess
In a nearby tree from two young owlets, one of the parents keeps a watch on another owlet.

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