My first indication that we had newcomers to the neighbourhood came by text from our next-door-neighbour, late in January. He wanted me to know there was an owl in his big, old pine tree, so we should keep a close eye on Georgie and Bella, our four-pound dogs. It soon became apparent a pair of Great Horned Owls had appropriated an old crow’s nest in that tree.
From our carport, using binoculars, we could catch glimpses of the female on the nest.
Needless to say, the crows were very unhappy about the situation. Although they weren’t nesting yet, themselves, they didn’t want the owls around, and they tried mightily to drive them off. They’d swarm the tree en masse, over and over, cawing and screeching, (triggering my Hitchcock’s “The Birds” ptsd) but their efforts went for naught, and the owls stayed put.
A part of me was super excited to have the owls nearby. I hoped to see them fly, and to watch their owlets grow. Another part of me was nervous about having these predatory creatures around my tiny dogs. Friends and family began warning me of the dangers, and my concern grew daily, so I put in a call to conservation. The conservation officer confirmed there was potential danger, albeit not huge. He suggested never leaving the pups outside by themselves. Going out with them was inconvenient, but being winter, they were in and out quickly, so it wasn’t that bad. We set up a covered pen to keep the pups corralled.
The tarp terrified Georgie, so it didn’t stay on long. Because we were always right beside them, we figured an open pen would be safe enough.
Often while out with the dogs late at night, I’d hear the owls hooting back and forth; the female in the neighbour’s tree, the male from other nearby yards. It got so I could recognize their calls. The male had a deeper hoot, and the female’s was higher and faster. They were loud too, sometimes waking me up very early in the morning.
Great Horned owls typically lay one to three eggs in late January, a single egg every two-three days, although there can be as much as a week between laying. Incubation takes about a month, with the owlets arriving at the beginning of March. Their eyes stay closed for up to eleven days.
From our carport, we kept a steady watch on the nest using binoculars, and the female was always setting. Sometimes she’d be snoozing, but often she’d look right back at us, very aware of her surroundings.
Mid-March, our neighbour texted to say he’d spotted a baby. Unable to see into the nest from our carport, I visited our neighbour’s yard about ten days later. Usually the male owl didn’t roost in the same tree, but because the crows were being so persistently aggressive, he must’ve decided to hang around that day, much to my delight. It was my only opportunity to see the handsome guy.
There were two owlets visible, and I almost melted when I saw the wee balls of fluff. At this stage, they’re called nestlings.
And already so fierce looking, despite the downy plumage.
I had yet to see the mama leave the nest, although both parents would be out hunting throughout the night to feed the growing owlets. The adults’ resounding hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo became a routine occurrence, from ten pm to five am.
Two days after I’d photographed the owlets, I was in our backyard with Hubby and the pups. I didn’t usually let them run loose, but that day they were. Suddenly my neighbour yelled a heads-up to me, and I turned to see the female owl flying toward me. I mean – right toward me. My first thought was, she’s after one of my dogs. Before I could react, she’d flown by, her wings mere feet from my head.
Turns out, she wasn’t interested in me or my pups. To divert the pesky crows from the nesting tree, she’d flown to another big tree two doors down. I just happened to be in her flightpath. The crows made a hasty and noisy pursuit. More and more gathered as they swarmed the tree.
These were taken April 4th, so the owlet was likely about four weeks old. What incredible changes in less than two weeks. And just like its mama, it was very aware of me.
Its tiny ear tuffs were already starting to appear.
A few days later, we spotted Mama perched on a branch, enjoying a snooze in the sun.
She soon realized we were watching her, even though we were in our own yard.
Great shots of her ear tuffs.
Over the next week, I tried photographing the owlets from my carport, but it was difficult through the branches.
Their plumage began to change, taking on more mature colours.
Around this time we discovered there were actually three owlets. The youngest one must’ve hatched much later than the other two.
Meanwhile, Mama began to enjoy daily alone-time away from the nest.
An owlet can be seen in this one, to the lower right.
At six weeks old, the nestlings were about to become fledglings, and that’s when things really got cute. Click here for fledgling pics and stories.