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Great Horned Owl owlet

A gargantuan white oak, Quercus alba, towers over a central Ohio park. Its gnarled boughs predate the founding of the City of Columbus, the municipality in which the tree resides. Over its centuries of growth, this ancient woody Methuselah has spawned enough animals to fill a small ark. Tens of thousands of caterpillars have noshed on its foliage. In turn, the caterpillars fed (and feed) legions of migratory songbirds that stop to rest and refuel in the oak's branches. Scores of squirrels have harvested its seasonal bounty of acorns. Southern Flying Squirrels have glided from limb to limb. Hawks have used the tree as a lookout post. And in this very photo, there lurks our most ferocious avian predator of all.

A cavity created by the loss of a giant limb provides a nesting spot for a pair of Great Horned Owls. Here we see the female occupying the nest cavity. She could easily be overlooked, as her plumage matches the wood of the tree quite well. I made this image back on April 1, and the owl had good reason to still be occupying the nest cavity.

This is her feathered charge - a tiny, fluffy owlet. At this stage, the adult female owl spends much time in the nest; a formidable defender of the owlet.

Great Horned Owl owlets basically sleep (and yawn), eat, and engage in one function related to the latter. And grow like weeds.

 I had the chance to revisit the nest site almost three weeks after the preceding photos were taken, on April 19, and my how our owlet has grown. The chick, while still heavily fuzzed with down, is nearly the size of the adult.

Great Horned Owls can have as many as four chicks, although two is probably most common, at least around here. In this case, the other egg(s) may not have hatched, or something possibly led to the other chicks' demise shortly after hatching. This one is doing quite well, though.

Owls have nested at this place for as long as I can remember, although they typically shift nest trees from year to year. By now, this owlet is out of the nest and free-flying. This isn't the first Great Horned Owl owlet spawned in this massive oak, and I suspect it'll play nursery for many more to come.

NOTE ON PHOTOS: The nest cavity can be seen from some distance away (if one knows where to look). In the morning, the sun is to one's back creating excellent lighting. I made these images with either a Canon 5D Mark III or crop-sensor 7D Mark II with a 500 mm fitted with a 1.4x teleconverter. Such camera rigs allow one to keep far away, and still get "keepers" without bothering the birds. Nesting owls should never be approached closely. I'm reluctant to mention the exact site, as all too often publicized owl nests can attract scads of people and such activity can lead to nest failure.


Sue said…
What a wonderful story. You got some great shots.

We have a massive Maple lining our driveway that is in decline. Though we have been told (repeatedly!) by the neighbors to take it down, we can't bear the thought.All our feeders hang from various limbs. Every year a red bellied woodpecker spends the spring in one section. The rest of the top is the domain of a pileated that delights in pounding away in search of treats. Sure, the tree is on it's way out, but my, it's a flurry of activity around that old gal from sunup to sundown. I think we'll let Mother Nature decide when it's time to bring it down.

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