More Visits from the Great Horned Owl Family

By Dan Weisz

The kids have all left the nest now. Two owlets have been spending most days in a palm tree, hidden by the skirting of the dried leaves. They will stay there until they are strong enough for steady and prolonged flight.

Mom spends many days in the primary palm tree that Dad had roosted in throughout the nesting season.  She can look right over at the other palm tree that her two owlets are in.

One evening after sunset the Great Horned Owl Mom flew out, picked up an uneaten Mourning Dove from what I refer to as the “skinny palm” tree, and looked towards her young as if to ask, “Are you hungry yet?”

Great Horned Owls in Tucson often take over nests that had been built and used during the prior year by Cooper’s Hawks. Great Horned owls do not build their own nests.  It is not unusual to see Cooper’s Hawks harassing Great Horned Owls on or near the nest throughout the breeding season.  One evening, even though the young owls were no longer in the nest, the Cooper’s Hawk insisted on harassing the mother Great Horned Owl who was on top of the Aleppo Pine nest tree, awaiting a food delivery from Dad.

Another evening Mom and Dad were both in Dad’s roost palm tree, waiting for sunset.  Mom is on the lower right in this shot.

The third owlet never seems to hang around its siblings. I think this was the first owlet to leave the nest and, for a while, it spent all of its days low in a mesquite tree in the same backyard as the two owlets in the palm tree.  Here, it had its back to us but is showing how easily an owl can turn its head 180 degrees, looking straight back.

Mom, with her brood patch showing, was in her roosting palm tree waiting for sundown and watching her owlets in their palm tree.

Mom then flew over to what I call the skinny palm.  At one point she scratched her head and then let her foot down very slowly.  She seemed to be lost in thought as she paused with one foot balled into a fist mid-air.

One owlet was peeking out from behind the palm tree skirting. This shot was taken four days after the photo at the top of this email.

Remember the mother Great Horned Owl holding on to the Mourning Dove carcass?  She flew over to a nearby saguaro with it.  Apparently, the kids weren’t yet hungry.  She seemed to be looking for her partner who was somewhere in the desert.  This shot was taken about 20 minutes after sunset.

Another look of Mom silhouetted on the saguaro.

I spent a bit of time each evening over a few weeks at sunset enjoying watching the owls’ behavior as they “wake up” to begin their night. By now, nesting season is over and the owls have dispersed. The young will still be dependent on their parents for several hunts as they become efficient flyers and learn to hunt.

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