A Great Horned Owlet in the Face of Danger – Visit 5
The Great Horned Owlet that we had been observing was now almost 6 weeks old. Bob and I were keen to see if the family of owls was still occupying the same woodlot in Markham, Ontario.
It was May 31, a short 24 days after first finding the Great Horned Owl’s nest along a busy pathway in a local park. Already, the Owlet had demonstrated the ability to leave its nest and move from perch to perch in the trees. We were hoping that the owls hadn’t relocated and that the owlet was still safe.
On this occasion, we were alerted to the owls’ location because one of the other “guardians” was already on site. We found her with her camera aimed at a Great Horned Owl and owlet.
Since our last visit, the owlet had been forced to move to a new tree. As we had suspected, the owlet’s previous perch, a faulty limb, had broken away from the tree when one of the adults flew in to feed their baby. This time, we found the Great Horned Owl mother and owlet cuddling together on a branch high up in a Silver Maple tree.
Moving from tree to tree in the forest before the owlet could fly would be no easy task. We are still scratching our heads about that. Yet, there it was in the tree that was usually favoured by the father Great Horned Owl.
As we looked on, mother Great Horned Owl did some preening, and the owlet kept an eye on us seeming to be quite curious.
From time to time, either Bob and I would become distracted by some other flora or fauna, and the owlet seemed to follow our movements as we photographed different subjects.
One time, when I glanced at the owls, mother Great Horned Owl appeared to be resting with her eyes closed. That siesta didn’t last long.
Suddenly, the male Great Horned Owl began to vocalize, an unusual thing to do during the day. Peaking our interest even further was the female Great Horned Owl responding to her mate’s calls.
Next thing we knew, the mother Great Horned Owl took flight leaving the owlet alone and vulnerable.
We wondered what was up when out of the blue two Red-tailed Hawks appeared. We continued to hear the adults calling back and forth to one another, perhaps exchanging battle plans. Abruptly, the female Great Horned Owl gave chase to one of the Red-tailed Hawks.
The second hawk had settled in a tree on the far side of the woodlot. To me, it looked liked an immature individual. We wondered if the adult might have been the original owner of the nest that the owls had used.
With the one Red-tailed Hawk chased from the area, mother Great Horned Owl must have felt slightly relieved. She returned to perch higher up in the same tree wherein sat the owlet.
She was extremely vigilant.
Our hearts were in our mouths when the second Red-tailed Hawk took to the air and flew directly towards the perching owls.
Mother Great Horned Owl was alert and ready for a defensive maneuver.
The eyes of the Great Horned Owlet were the size of saucers as the Red-tailed Hawk drew closer.
At the last minute, the Hawk changed direction and soared up over the Silver Maple. Perhaps it saw the mother owl and thought better of its actions.
When things settled down, Bob and I had time to make more detailed observations of the owlet. It was remarkable to note that the owlet had grown quite a few flight feathers, but its inability to fly yet still meant that the owlet was very vulnerable.
It was obvious that the owlet was well fed as it appeared substantially bigger than a couple of weeks earlier. The plentiful numbers of rodents and rabbits ensured a constant food supply.
We left the owls in the relative peace and quiet of the woodlot hoping that the owlet lived to see another day. With marauding Red-tailed Hawks, nothing was guaranteed.