By Dan Weisz
The two owlets from the nest in the Palm Tree have finally fledged! That week, the pair left the nest and did not return. Below are some photographs of my final visit with the birds. I first heard about the nest in February. Between that day and last week (May 22), the female owl spent 4-5 weeks incubating her eggs, and then another 6 or 7 weeks helping to take care of the young until they grew big enough and strong enough to be able to fly comfortably from the nest. Now they will follow the parents around for the next phase of their lives. The photographic emails that I shared gave a glimpse into that timeline.
One of the owls “left” the nest a few weeks earlier than it should have. By then, he had developed some feathers and Wildlife Rehab felt he was too mobile to be ‘re-nested’ so he was left to find safety in nearby vegetation, all the while being fed and cared for by its parents. This is not an uncommon occurrence. Surprisingly, after growing for several weeks, that owl finally returned to the nest on its own last week and rejoined its sibling.
They spent a few days bonding again with the one owl surely regaling the other about all of its adventures in the neighbors’ yards and encouraging its sibling to be brave enough to fly off. In the meantime, Dad and Mom continued doing what they do- feeding and watching over their young. That same evening Dad was found on a usual perch. Below, he is getting ready for the night’s adventures by doing a wing stretch. While he stretches his right wing, he also stretches his right leg as far back as he can.
And then, he began to pirouette on the arm of the saguaro on one foot. His wings are raised high, he is leaning forward, and his tail feathers are spread.
As he resettled on the saguaro arm (facing north now) he gazed back over the houses to look at his two young on the nest.
The father Great Horned Owl then took off to hunt. I returned to the palm tree where both of the little owls were stirring. I took the photo below a full 20+ minutes after sunset and with the owlets facing east so their bodies and faces were in shadow. Again, technology is a wonderful thing allowing me to capture this moment. The owlet on the right is the one that spent a few weeks off of the nest. The owlet on the left is the one that remained on the nest until this evening.
Moments later this was my final view of the owlets, from a neighbors front porch. The owlets seemed to be saying their final goodbye.
The next morning my friend’s neighbor told me that both owlets flew from the palm tree shortly after I left. They have not returned! Both will be spending all summer remaining near their parents. The parents will teach them to hunt in the valley below the houses and around the extended neighborhood. Some owlets will still beg for food from their parents for up to 4-5 months, but they may become independent prior to that. My friend and her neighbors may hear the owls hooting over the next months, and if they are lucky they may catch a glimpse of them flying some evening. Otherwise, we’ll all have wonderful memories while we hope for another visit next spring!