Archive for March, 2011

Great Horned Owl – Future Family in a Tree

Looking at You

The other day some friends told me about a Great Horned Owl in their yard.  So at the first chance I stopped by to see this big bird.  Here are a couple of images I captured and some information on the Great Horned Owl.

These birds are the biggest owl in North America reaching 25 inches tall.  They can have a wing span of 60 inches.  Combine this with their weight of up to 61 ounces, this is a big bird.  It is among the top of the food chain.  They hunt mainly at night and are stealthy when it comes to flight.  Their feathers allow to them be almost soundless when in flight.

In our area they start breeding in December and lay eggs in February.  They do not build their own nests but use cavities in trees or buildings.  They will use an old hawks nest or even a great blue heron nest.  They can be seen nesting in an active heron rookery.

Great Horned Owl nesting in tree cavity

 They will lay 1-3 eggs and it will take 28-35 days for them to hatch.  After 5-6 weeks they will start branching and at 10 weeks they will fly.  They will rely on their parents for 4-5 months after that.

These birds will hunt from the air or ground, but mostly from sitting on a perch.  They will eat about anything that moves.  Insects, mice, domestic cats, ducks, geese, hawks and herons are food for this owl.  Even skunks are tasty for the Great Horned Owl.  They have power talons that can crush the bones of prey.

Habitats prefered are old growth forests with conifer trees.  They can be seen roosting next to the main trunk of a tree allowing them to blend well during the day.  They also like having open fields in the area to hunt small mammals.

Great Horned eat small prey whole and tear larger catches to eat.  Eating this way causes them to cast pellets.  The pellets they spit out contain the fur, feathers and bones of their dinner.  These can be seen at the base of their nesting site or where they roost.

Since these owls prey on other birds, crows and others; these birds will harass Great Horns during the daytime.  They will find their roost and pick at the owl trying to cause it to leave the area.  If you hear many birds squawking, this might the activity you might witness.

Great Horns normally do not migrate, but keep on territory year round.  Normally solitary, a mating pair will roost next to each other prior to mating season.  After the female lays the eggs, the male can be found roosting near by.  If you find a pair and their nest, you might be able to see them and their young for a couple of years in the same nest.

It is quite exciting to see these birds.  I consider it a privilege to photograph these birds.

Thanks to some friends I will return for more pictures of the family in the tree…