Great Horned Owlets in Thickson’s Woods

Great Horned Owlets in Thickson’s Woods

Great Horned Owl mom with two chicks - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

Only a week after first photographing the Great Horned owlets in Thickson’s Woods, in Whitby, Ontario, Bob and I returned to catch up on their progress and development.  When we first spotted the mother Great Horned Owl, she was taking a break from her nesting responsibilities perched at the end of the same branch as that holding the nest.

Great Horned Owl mom heads back to nest - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

The female owl was quite content in the shelter of the tree trunk, removed from her brood.  She was barely noticeable until a trio of noisy birdwatchers/photographers showed up near us.  They induced the female owl to leave her secluded retreat by making quasi owl vocalizations.  Such actions could, in fact, cause the owls to abandon the nest if they think that their territory is being invaded.  We were very pleased when the new arrivals stopped making such noises.

great horned owl mother heads back to nest - thicksons woods

Great Horned Owl moms talon - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

In this case, the mother owl simply made her way back to the nest.  As she carefully crept along the branch, we could see the long, sharp talons on her heavily feathered feet.

Great Horned Owl mom preens herself beside chick - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

As we watched the loving reunion, the owlets seemed to welcome the mother back to the nest.

Great Horned Owl mom with chick in nest - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

Great Horned Owl mom preens herself with chick - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

The female Great Horned Owl began preening herself and focusing attention on her offspring.

Great Horned Owl mom preens chick - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

It was quite obvious to Bob and I that the great horned owlets had grown substantially, although one of them remained tucked in the background mostly hidden from view.

Great Horned Owl chick pecks mom in nest - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

The other owlet succumbed to its mother’s ministrations.  We could see that its beak had dramatically increased in size,

Great Horned Owl mom with chick - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

and its eye discs had become much more defined.

Great Horned Owl father sits in pine tree watching nest - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

Once again, we found the male Great Horned Owl settled on a tree limb on the other side of the forest.

Great Horned Owl father watches nest - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

The male Great Horned Owl is responsible for providing food for the female as she maintains her position on the nest, and for the owlets, as well as himself.  Great Horned Owls hunt primarily at night, so it is no wonder that we always catch the male at rest during the day.

Pine tree in Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

Bob and I were curious as to what the owls have been eating, so we set out to find the bases of the trees in which the male has been known to perch.  That is easier said than done.  Once we lost our sight line of the male, it was difficult to pinpoint the tree in which he presently sat.  Every pine tree in the forest began to look like the other.

Jean inspects Great Horned Owl pellet - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

When I spotted some owl pellets beneath one pine tree, we knew we were getting close.  That was the tree wherein the owl had perched the last time we were in the woods.

Great Horned Owl pellet - dropping with bones and fur mixed in - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

Great Horned Owl pellet - various bones and fur among dropping - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

Upon closer inspection, I found the pellets to be full of tiny bones, feathers and fur.  That was no surprise, but what did astonish me was the sheer volume of the pellets, and these were only the product of the one owl.

Great Horned Owl father sits in pine tree - camera point of view looking up - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

A short distance further along the trail, Bob espied the male owl where it sat on a branch directly above our heads.

Great Horned Owl pellet - dropping - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

I promptly began scouring the leaf litter below his perch in search of some fresh owl pellets.  This owl had been busy as they were numerous.

Great Horned Owl pellet - dropping with bird head in it- Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

With a stick, I poked about the owl pellets…

Jean with bird skull on her mitten - thicksons woods - whitby - ontario

and was able to identify pieces of several different animals.

bird skull found beneath Great Horned Owl - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

I unearthed a bird’s skull with beak intact,

Animal jaw bone founded beneath Great Horned Owl - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

what looked like the jaw bone and teeth of some tiny mammal,

Great Horned Owl pellet - teeth and head - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

as well as the partial skull of a small rodent with the front teeth still attached.

As you see in our video, I was also very surprised at something I discovered in one of the pellets.

Dove on its nest in Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

Even on the day we visited Thickson’s Woods last week, it was obvious that there is lots of wildlife to sustain the family of owls.  A melodious cacophany of bird song filled the forest as boisterous red-winged blackbirds spilled from the trees.

White breasted Nuthatch - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

Nuthatches, robins, woodpeckers, doves, and other birds we didn’t identify, flitted innocently amongst the branches,

Garter snake moves through leaves below Great Horned Owls - Thicksons Woods - Ontario

and several Garter Snakes newly emerged from their snake den were seen basking in the sun.  This is not to mention the chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits that we have observed on previous visits.  The owls have a regular smorgasbord to choose from.

Great Horned Owl looks towards me - Thicksons Woods - Whitby - Ontario

Back at the nest, the freshly-groomed owlet relaxed under the close watch of the mother.  I guess next time, the other owlet will demand the mother’s care and attention.

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