By Dan Weisz
I’ve been following a family of Great Horned Owls in my Foothills neighborhood. I know that many of you also have Great Horned Owls in your neighborhood and either hear them at night or, if you are fortunate, see them occasionally. Great Horned Owls do not make their own nests. They will take over ‘used” nests of other raptors or ravens. These owls took over an old Cooper’s Hawk nest high up in an Aleppo Pine tree. Fortunately, this nest is placed right at an opening in the tree that faces west, so in the late afternoons all nest activity is easier to observe. Over the past few weeks, the two owlets on the nest have grown up very rapidly. When they first hatch, the babies are covered in downy white feathers. They go through several stages before they finally develop their full adult plumage, and you can see some changes in their feathering as you look through the following photos.
This family portrait shows the owlets still fuzzy looking. They are large enough now that their mother spends most of her time out of the nest but perched nearby.
One afternoon, one owlet began eating some leftovers from inside her nest.
And while she was nibbling on those leftovers, her mother began some of the stretches that happen as evening approaches and the owl is getting ready for her nighttime flights. Both owlets are watching mom’s behavior and one owlet has a chunk of gray matter (either feather or fur) in her beak..
Over the past week, both owlets will walk or hop around the nest and exercise their wings. They are beginning to develop their flight muscles even before they begin to fly. Those wide eyes always seem to imply some kind of thinking, and the ‘younger’ owlet sure seems to be impressed with its bigger sibling.
One of the owlets moved up a branch and yawned. The owlets have spent the long day in 90 degree heat resting on their nest. They will be more alert and awake during the night.
Another stretch. In this shot you can see that there is less baby feather-down on the bird and the feathers are darker and becoming more defined.
A youngster next to its mother. The downy feathers form a skirt at the owlet’s feet. Although she is a very large bird at two feet long, the mother Great Horned Owl probably weighs only three pounds. The owlet still has a ways to go to reach adult size and plumage.
Last night I waited after sunset to observe the owl’s behavior. Shortly after sunset, the birds became very active. It was too dark for photography but the babies began continual wing flapping and stretching. They walked/hopped to the ends of nearby branches. The mother owl flew to the top of the pine tree and then took off into the desert to either hunt or to meet her mate. The babies will be ready to fledge and leave the nest tree very soon