Great Horned Owl in Whitby’s Thickson’s Woods
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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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I do love this owl. Looks like it’s in its favourite tree!
We made a trip out to Thickson’s Woods again a week ago, and this time, found the female owl sitting on her nest. I can hardly wait until the fledglings hatch.
She did not build that nest, owls never build a nest. It may have been a former nest for a red-tailed hawk, osprey, or bald eagle.
I know. I suspect that the Great Horned Owl in this case is using an abandoned squirrel’s dray as there were several to choose from in the woods.
Great horned owls are generalist, they will eat anything they can overpower. Surfacing fish, poisonous snakes, skunks, foxes, even other owls. When barn owls hear the hoot of a great horned owl, they will just freak out. A predator!