And Then This Family of Great Horned Owls Said Good-bye

By Dan Weisz

The mid-town family of owls have finally moved on. The little ones have learned to fly well and are mature enough to follow mom and dad around the neighborhood while they hunt for food. They will be fed by their parents for a while as they eventually learn to hunt on their own.  I spent some time with the Great Horned Owls on their last day near their nest tree both in the morning and just before sunset and was able to witness some interesting behaviors.

One of the young Great Horned Owlets did a wing stretch while looking at me.  Birds do these stretches to loosen up and to ‘put’ their feathers all in place.

At one point the owl was preening its left wing (after the wing stretch above). It pulled its head back up to show that it had what I believe is a wing feather in its beak.

“Look what I found!”  It does look a bit like a pirate with a dagger in its beak.  Now owls have a great reputation for being very wise, but reality is a bit different.  Owls are highly skilled predators with outstanding vision and excellent hearing.  Because their eyes take up so much room in their skull and so much of their brain is needed for auditory and visual perception, there is little “room” left for computational skills. So….if something ends up in a Great Horned Owl’s mouth, it must mean that something is edible, right?

And so the Owlet began to consume its own feather.

After a bit of time, all of the feather barbs near the base of the feather were gone.

And the Owlet began to work on the remaining portion of the feather.

The fluffy end was next.

And then at the last moment, the Great Horned Owl had the remaining part of the feather in its beak and then grabbed its own beak with its long, powerful talons.

Meanwhile, another owlet on the opposite side of the tree was looking straight down.

It was nearing sunset, and one owlet was investigating the stub of a branch.  Or perhaps its foot just ended up there and it was trying to figure out why that spot felt different than where its other foot was.

This was right before sunset.  The father Great Horned Owl woke up and began stretching both wings over its head.  We knew this was the father as another much larger adult owl was in a nearby perch of this same pine tree.  Female Great Horned Owls are much larger than male Great Horned Owls.

Another wing stretch and its foot stretches as far as it can.

And two siblings looked towards the setting sun and the reddish glow of the sunset.

It got dark and I left, and the next morning the owls were all gone from this tree and their nest tree.  They have been spotted around the neighborhood but I won’t see any of them again soon. Next spring the two adults are likely to use a nest somewhere near the same location while the three owlets, if they survive the winter, will have found and established their own territories.  I hope to see them again in 2021.

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