Nesting Great Horned Owl
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The other day, I was delighted to come across a nesting Great Horned Owl as I was out for a drive. The bird — probably a female — (females do most of the brooding) had made her nest in an abandoned Red-tailed Hawk nest on a utility pole. Her mate was nowhere to be seen but, in fact, may very well have been perching nearby.
I suspect that this owl has been sitting on her eggs for only a few days, because I’d driven past the same nest recently and no owl was visible then.
Great Horned Owls are common throughout the entire continental United States and throughout much of the world. They are a top avian predator and they are the largest raptor living in Tucson and its suburbs year round. They hunt mainly at dusk and dawn and will prey on pretty much anything that they can successfully kill, ranging from small birds and rodents to animals as large as rabbits and skunks. Much of their prey during breeding season consists of nestlings and juvenile birds of other species. The myth that they prey on pet dogs is largely an urban legend, however. Perhaps a very small Chihuahua might attract an owl’s attention if it is outdoors unattended, but Great Horned Owls don’t take on prey that weighs more than they do, and one of these owls weighs, at most, about three pounds. If your small unattended pet goes missing, the odds are much greater that a coyote, rather than a Great Horned Owl, was the culprit.
Great Horned Owls aren’t nest builders. Characteristically, they prefer abandoned nests built by other birds. Ravens’ and Red-tailed Hawks’ old nests are ideal nesting spots for owls. However, they aren’t the least bit fussy about where they nest. One of the owls at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is the offspring of a pair that made their home in a flowerpot in the garden section of a Tucson Home Depot.
These owls are fairly prolific breeders. A female will lay from one to six eggs during the breeding season and broods of three or four offspring are common. The youngsters hatch out after about 30 days and fledge about a month to five weeks later. Young owls (owlets) are very dependent on their parents and some do not become fully independent until about 80 days after hatching. There is a possibility that this owl’s offspring will be sticking around the nest site as late as mid-May.
Please don’t ask me to reveal the location of this nest. I do not want this bird and her family disturbed by a procession of the curious. I will check back on the nest from time to time and keep you posted as things progress.
Image made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 800, f8 @ 1/1000.