Great Horned Owlets in Thickson’s Woods
Great Horned Owlets in Thickson’s Woods
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.
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.
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.
As we watched the loving reunion, the owlets seemed to welcome the mother back to the nest.
The female Great Horned Owl began preening herself and focusing attention on her offspring.
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.
The other owlet succumbed to its mother’s ministrations. We could see that its beak had dramatically increased in size,
and its eye discs had become much more defined.
Once again, we found the male Great Horned Owl settled on a tree limb on the other side of the forest.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A short distance further along the trail, Bob espied the male owl where it sat on a branch directly above our heads.
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.
With a stick, I poked about the owl pellets…
and was able to identify pieces of several different animals.
I unearthed a bird’s skull with beak intact,
what looked like the jaw bone and teeth of some tiny mammal,
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.
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.
Nuthatches, robins, woodpeckers, doves, and other birds we didn’t identify, flitted innocently amongst the branches,
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.
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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