Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Great horned owl family

Dr Ponder has a family of great horned owls near her home. There are two chicks that have been visible. In Minnesota, great horned owl chicks are the first raptors to breed in the calendar year. This means that in cold, snowy February and March, the owls are sitting on eggs and able to keep them warm.

These photos show the female sitting with one chick, who is about five to six weeks old, and then one of the chicks who has left the nest at about seven weeks old. Great horned owls do not make their own nests, so the nest that is being used was either a crow or squirrel nest. Note the absence of a sturdy stick nest, which is what hawks and eagles will construct for themselves.

The young owls will first become “branchers” – they will make their way from the nest to a nearby branch in a tree. They will use their beaks and flap to keep their balance as they move about the branches. They are about 13 weeks old before they have feathers that can sustain real flight, but will be quite active before then.

It is important to note that this is the time of year when storms or winds might blow young owlets from their tree branches, and sometimes the young are found on the ground. The parents are aware that they are there – the youngsters will still vocalize for food – and so in most cases nothing needs to be done from the human side providing that there are no cats/dogs or people to bother or harm them. The Raptor Center welcomes local calls so they can ascertain if medical attention is needed, but most times the young will make their way back up into trees before long.

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