Monday, February 28, 2011

Tigers of the air make tigerlets

Sharp-eyed Bob Baran spotted this old Red-tailed Hawk nest, high in the boughs of a silver maple, while stuck in traffic. See it? There, in the upper right corner of the photo.

Well, Red-tails made the nest but someone bigger and far tougher has come along and appropriated it.

Bob took a close look and spotted telltale ear tufts projecting above the nest. Great Horned Owl! Bob was good enough to let me know where the nest was, which turned out to only be 15 minutes or so from where I live in western Franklin County, Ohio. Look closely - she is staring daggers at your blogger, ears erect and visible on the nest's left side.
BOTANY LESSON: Those little red globules are the flowers of the silver maple, our first tree to burst into bloom. But the owl gives not a whit of such stuff. They are strict carnivores with no interest in namby-pamby vegetarian stuff. Had the owls even suspected that I knew about and was interested in such matters as flowers, they probably would have set upon me and torn your narrator asunder.

Some Great Horned Owls use large tree cavities created by broken-off branches or other such damage, but in these parts most use the stick nests created by raptors, especially Red-tailed Hawks. The hard-working legitimate nest owners can squeal and circle all they like, but it'll be for naught. Nothing rivals the Great Horned Owl for sheer ferocity in the bird world, at least in my neck of the woods, and they take what they want.

Very early nesters, Great Horned Owls are sitting on eggs now, and should you espy a hawk's nest, pull out the binocs and have a gander. Perhaps you, too, will see the Tufts of Doom jutting from the twiggy jumble. Great Blue Heron rookeries are always worth a search, as the owls frequent comandeer one of the lanky-legged wader's abodes. As herons return early to their colonies, an uneasy truce sets in as the birds set up house-keeping while trying to ignore the killers in their midst.

The male owl was perched in a gnarly tangle of branches, not far from where his mate warmed their eggs. These birds are legitimate bada**es - there is just no other way to put it. I've seen scores of Great Horned Owls over the years, and never fail to be struck by the absolute ferocity that they project. Those glaring yellow eyes pierce you with a withering stare that would be terrifying if one were potential prey. A bird with such prominent ear tufts could run the risk of appearing comical or clownlike, but in the case of the Great Horned Owl, they only add to the purposeful, slightly sinister look.

This is NOT a silhouette that you want darkening your doorstep if you are a rabbit, skunk, or cat. Swift and silent, horned owls will give no warning of their approach. The leading edges of their flight feathers are fimbriate, or fringed, and thus muffle the sound of air passing by the wings.

I, for one, am quite pleased that there are Great Horned Owls living nearby. They are common in the City of Columbus, and I sometimes hear a pair duetting from my window. The male's HOO's are deep and basso; hers are higher in pitch.

Common as they may be, it isn't everyday that one gets to see a nest and I thank Bob for tipping me to this one. If time allows, I'll try and get back and check on them. We had an absolute humdinger of a thunderstorm blow through here last night, and hopefully the owls got through that with eggs intact. We could use some more Tigers of the Air around here.


M.Whittemore said...

Just began following your blog. Very interesting about finding owls in abandoned hawk nests! I'll have to keep an eye out

Doug Marcum said...

My favorite!!! I haven't had any luck locating a nesting GHO yet this year but I am still looking!! I never thought to check the heron rookeries, makes plenty of sense though. Great find. I totally agree with what you said about these creatures...pure evil, ferocious killing machines. You can see it in their eyes.

Anonymous said...

About 3 years ago a pair of GHOs stole the resident redtail nest in a sycamore just below CJ Brown Dam in Springfield. I found out because I saw the female redtail sitting in what had been a Cooper's hawk nest about 200 yards farther downstream. I thought, "Why would the redtails steal that nest, they have a perfectly good nest at the other end of the woods?" I walked down there and saw the malevolent yellow eyes looking down with contempt at me and I knew why. As they say, "&%it rolls downhill". The Cooper's pair had to move to the woodlot across the prairie that year. The nest the GHOs stole is now gone and the redtails are still using the nest they stole.
Brian Menker

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks for the comments, and that's an outstanding set of observations, Brian! The owls triggered a cascade of thefts and forced relocations! I admire them all the more!

Randy Kreager said...

We have a great-horn across the street in an old hawk's nest that it appropriated. And now another has been spotted by the eagle's nest down the road!

Vincent Lucas said...

I'm ambivalent when it comes GHOWs. Beside all of the other animals they predate upon, you can add small chihuahuas -- mine. It happened back in 2007 in my back yard here in Naples, FL. Poor "Cookie" didn't stand a chance. I miss her still. . . .