This winter, the Great Horned Owls came back to a site not far from my house and raised another brood.
There are 3 young ones this time, in a big cavity about 20 feet up an old tree. I’d seen the same adults years ago, but at a different spot about a half mile away, and had forgotten about them. Local naturalist groups don’t publicize nest locations, to protect the owls from disturbance; but luckily, another photographer sent me a tip and a map link. The nest wasn’t hard to spot once I got there – a young owl was at the front door.
Great Horned Owls nest, conceive and lay their eggs in the dead of winter.. Here in Minnesota, February is a rough time to be sitting unprotected, high up in a bare tree. But the eggs take a month to hatch, and the young need several weeks to fledge. And then, they spend an entire summer with their parents, learning how to support themselves. So the parents need an early start.
These owls don’t build nests – they either use one built by another species, or some sort of natural hollow. This pair got lucky and found a nice tree cavity well off the ground. It faced north, but other trees gave it a bit of protection from the wind.
When I arrived, the 3 young ones were just at the point of being able to leave that hollow. One had made it as far as a nearby tree; the other two shared an increasingly crowded nest. They’re obviously still well insulated and look well-fed. A successful brood of 3 is a good outcome for these birds.
The parents were on duty, coming and going, bringing in food. At one point, a couple dozen crows showed up to loudly harass the owl family. The adult owls sat stoically, ignoring the racket and occasionally hooting at each other reassuringly. Eventually the crows moved on.
Here’s a portrait of the magnificent bird these young ones will become. This adult is a rescued bird and now leads a protected life at a local shelter.
Today, the young owls are just keeping warm, sleeping a lot and growing quickly. It’s been a cold March but these birds are well adapted to boreal forests. They’ve made it through the worst of the winter and so far, they’re having a good year.