Great Horned Owl in Whitby’s Thickson’s Woods

photograph of a great horned owl in Thicksons Woods in Whitby, Ontario, Canada.

Great Horned Owl sits with eyes closed 2 - Thickson's Woods - Whitby - Ontario

On a frigid yet sunny winter day, Bob and I ventured out to Thickson’s Woods in Whitby, Ontario, to see if we could spot one of the two Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) that makes those woods its home.

Pine Tree that Great Horned Owl was sitting in - Thickson's Woods - Whitby - Ontario

We had failed on other attempts to locate either of the owls, so I was ecstatic when I picked out the shaded silhouette of one of these magnificent birds way up high in a pine tree.

Great Horned Owl sits with eyes closed - Thickson's Woods - Whitby - Ontario

The fierce north wind was buffeting the trees and howling in our ears, and yet the great horned owl sat hunkered down next to the trunk of the pine tree, possibly using it to break the onslaught of the relentless gusts.  Take notice of the powerful long beak.

Great Horned Owl up in tree - Thickson's Woods - Whitby - Ontario

Considering the screen of twigs and branches between me and the owl, the continuous swaying of the trees, the height of the owl’s perch and the constantly shifting dappled sunlight, I was faced with quite a challenge to capture an image of this striking bird.

In this video that Bob filmed, you get to see the Great Horned Owl taking refuge behind the trunk of the pine tree to protect itself from the perpetual blast of arctic air:   -20 with the wind chill factored in.

Great Horned Owl sleeping in tree - Thickson's Woods - Whitby - Ontario

From my vantage point, you would never know that the Great Horned Owl is actually very large, 23 inches in length.  The owl was so tucked into itself that it appeared much smaller.

Great Horned Owl nest high in tree - Thickson's Woods - Whitby - Ontario

I believe this to be the nest of the Great Horned Owls, which are a breeding pair, but that is only a guess.  These owls usually utilize an old hawk’s, crow’s or squirrel’s nest, and seeing as the owl was perched on the opposite side of the tree from this aerie, it seems quite plausible.

Great Horned Owl's backside - Thickson's Woods - Whitby - Ontario

Viewed from behind, it is possible to see that the owl is hunched down weathering the blustery day.  Great Horned Owls usually hunt at night so it is no surprise to find the owl dozing in the branches of this century’s old pine tree regardless of the weather.

Great Horned Owl sits with ears up - Thickson's Woods - Whitby - Ontario

Great Horned Owls are the only Canadian owl over 16 inches in total length with prominent ear tufts.  In fact, on that day, the tufts were flopping about so dramatically in the incessant wind that I wondered at first if this was a Long-Eared Owl.  It is the distinct white throat and horizontal bars on the belly that convinced me otherwise.  What a lovely specimen of the owl family.

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