Owl Portraits

By Dan Weisz

And by Portrait, I mean Portrait.  These shots felt like I was taking them in a studio.  It was such an interesting setting.  After disappearing for almost a week, the young Great Horned Owlet was discovered again.  This time he was sitting out in the open in the front yard of a house across the street and three doors down.  He was perhaps 20 feet from the street, so I and his other fans stood in the street and watched and took photos.  The setting was perfect!  You can see the beginning of the feather tufts on his head that gives him his name “Great Horned”.  He also still has his fuzzy owlet down but many feathers are growing in and can be seen in the brown lines across his body.  And those feet and talons already look like they are ready to go to work.

By walking to my left and up the driveway, the owlet could be seen from a different vantage point.  His wing feathers are much more apparent here with two shades of brown, and those dark wing feathers look like they are ready to fly.  Notice he is holding his wing up a bit so that his shoulder is hiding his face a bit.  That is likely being done not because he is shy, but for heat dispersion to let the breeze blow through his wing.

Back on the street, I noticed a hummingbird that was getting nectar from the flowers, but also checking out the owlet.  (And again, those owl toes and talons!!!)

And then as I was taking the owl’s picture, I got photobombed by the hummingbird.  When the hummingbird flew in front of the owl, my camera refocused on the smaller bird.

Below is a closeup of the photograph above.  Two cute subjects for the price of one!

Back to the view from the driveway a little later.  The owlet was snoozing again and appears to be wrapped up in a cozy blanket of feathers.  For more on Great Horned Owlets, listen to Birdnote:  https://www.birdnote.org/listen/shows/great-horned-owl-iii (P.S. Skunks are on the menu only very rarely)

Meanwhile, the parents were around.  The following shots also feel like studio portrait shots to me.  Mom was up in her palm tree. Sometimes she slept or looked around. Every once in a while she would look at me.  Great Horned Owls are the birds whose calls are the classic “owl” sound you hear on TV, in the Movies and in commercials. For more on the sounds of Great Horned Owls, go to Birdnote of course:  https://www.birdnote.org/listen/shows/voices-and-vocabularies-great-horned-owls 

I believe this is the Mom.  By observing the owls so frequently, their routines became more clear.  A little before sunset or at sunset the Dad (usually) flew to the east and would perch on a saguaro, scanning the valley below for food.  I have sent you other photos of the owl in the crook of a saguaro arm.  There are also a few other regular perches. Mom would then (usually) join Dad in the area.  We never saw her hunting but it was as if she said “I’ll begin hunting in a few weeks. In the meantime, you go out and get dinner for me and the two little ones back home!”.  

Each owl would look around.  In the photo below, she was resetting her feet on the saguaro buds.   The Santa Rita Mountains are in the background.

As the sun set further, the Santa Ritas lit up in pinks and purples.  The mother owl often turned back to look at the baby in the nest.

On another night, I caught this action shot of one owl leaving a saguaro.  The camera’s shutter speed was set too slow and the light was too dark to get a crisp action shot, but I wanted to show you how the owls take off horizontally and with a strong push.  As it became darker after each sunset, Mom would return to the nest or to a perch near the nest where she could await meal delivery by Dad for her to feed the young with.

Yes, there will be many more owl shots coming in the near future.

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