Owls have been associated with magical powers in many cultures’ mythology and history. Their nocturnal secretive habits and their huge eyes simply look mysteriously different than other feathered creatures. Even people who don’t identify as being particularly interested in birds, have some understanding of owls. Owls are portrayed in popular imagination such as The Harry Potter series for example or Beanie Babies. Science class may have covered that they have amazing neck vertebrae, which allow them to turn their heads further than any other animal! There are Audubon classes to learn more about these elusive and rarely seen night- birds. Some people can “call” owls by using various sounds to which they respond. Other times we simply are in the right place at the right time in order to see them. Often we simply hear them without ever catching a glimpse.
Before the trees leaf out is the best time to scan for owls so get outside and look for large nests before spring and new leaves creates camouflage for owl babies. Great Horned Owls are particularly fond of using nests from hawks, eagles, crows or even abandoned squirrel nests.
Great Horned Owls are among our earliest birds to nest in this location. Later on of course we’ll see some ducks and geese building nests. Our latest nesting birds tend to be the American Goldfinch who doesn’t lay eggs until much later in the summer. Even now at our feeders we can see these Goldfinches start to change from their drab olive winter plumage to their bright yellow breeding plumage despite the fact that the date for egg laying is months away.
My own personal experience is limited with owls but when I see one I am truly awed. These are magnificently camouflaged creatures. The attached picture is from Fernhill Wetlands where we were incredibly fortunate to see this bird peeking over the nest. According to reputable sources these birds mate for life and start producing offspring when they are about two years old. Both male and female share the duty of sitting on the eggs. There are typically two eggs, which take around 30 days to hatch, and then more time to develop feathers and leave the nest (technical term is fledging). So we look forward to watching this family grow over time. We did not see the other bird but hope to. This will require careful scanning of trees given their camouflage and another dose of incredible luck.
I have heard Great Horned Owls in my back yard in Cedar Mill at night. I know they nest in this area. Their – hoo hoo hoo hoo and maybe even one more note at times, is loud and distinct. Once I saw one at dusk land in my back yard tree for a few moments. That was a real treat and the only time I have seen one in the 13 years I have lived in my home. I hear them a lot in January and February and then when they start to nest they don’t call..
My brother had an encounter with a Great Horned Owl as he was running in Forest Park with his small terrier dog. The owl apparently thought the dog would be tasty and made a run at the dog. They will eat whatever is available including small dogs and cats. Mostly they eat rodents..
What mostly amazes me are their huge eyes, which can bring in lots of light to see in dim conditions. Birds have so many adaptations to specific habitats. Some of them have beaks for cracking open nuts, some drill holes in my trees for sap and insects and owls have huge eyes to see at night. It reminds me of our human signature strengths. We don’t all have to be alike and being different and unique may allow us to thrive together. It also is fascinating the variations in responses to owls in history. While these creatures are in fact hard to study due to their habits this has not stopped fertile imaginations from interpretations. In many cultures owls are revered for wisdom and are symbolic of fertility (such as being the companions of many ancient goddesses of fertility in recovered artwork—due to their association with the night maybe?). Other cultures have found them to be symbolic of rather evil and dark things like harbingers of death and destruction.
Human’s beings are able to interpret the very same event or animal in markedly diverse and creative ways. To me the owls are intricately adapted to harsh conditions and are such a rare treat that I am transfixed. I think I watched this particular owl for about an hour and the time just melted. What awes you?
Get outside and see..