Thursday, January 21, 2010

Give a HooooT

Baby owls of Northern Illinois University
Part Two
I have had the pleasure of watching Great Horned Owls nest and fledge in my area for the past few years, the reason this is my passion bird. My definition of passion bird is the bird that changes your interest in birdwatching from mild interest into a passion.

In my previous Great Horned Owl Post: The Inside HooooT, I shared my behind the scene experiences viewing the determination it took for Great Horned Owlets to leave the security of their nest. Mama weened them by only feeding outside the nest. If they wanted to eat, they needed to fly and fly they did. I am happy to say that all owlets fledged successfully.

Watching the newly fledged owlets embracing life outside the nest was was an incredible experience. I love the photo below because it really shows what a big world it is out there for this little owl.

Image available in Nature-ally Beautiful Cards Great Horned Owl Boxed Set

Warmth and security are gone. This vulnerable fledgling takes a nap in wide open branches near the empty nest. Mama is watching out for the baby on a branch nearby.

Crows and Owls are natural enemies. Mama stands firm. She is not intimidated. The crow knew just how close she could safely get and did not cross that line. It left the scene after testing the waters.

Wide eyed and ready to take on the world.

While learning to adjust to the world outside it's nesting cavity, these adorable Great Horned Owl fledglings found themselves in many interesting positions and predicaments. Their wings got in the way often. Branches posed a problem for the owlets as they learned to maneuver their way through the tree tops. At one point one of the owlets found itself hanging upside down. It's claw was stuck on one of the branches. It was quite adorable to watch. The owlet wriggled for a bit then just hung there, attached to the branch, by one claw, upside down.
Calendar available at (size 11x17 inch vertical)

Finally the owlet relaxed. It's foot came free and within seconds it hit the ground.

Slightly bewildered the owlet looks up. Now how to get back in those trees.

It was a long way up with many angles to consider.

The owlet walked around surveying it's surroundings, looking for just the right angle back up. The woodland patch within the University is about the size of a football field. There are two parking lots, a road with 20mph speed limit and a building surrounding this area. Three out of four unsafe choices for the owl to venture into. The owlet was getting dangerously close to the parking lot. Luckily a professor came to work shortly after it had fallen from the trees. He was used to this from past experience and grabbed a large stick. He put it on the ground as near to the owl as it would allow. The baby stepped up onto the branch.

The professor and my husband then each took an end of the stick and walked the owl over to a nearby tree.

The owl jumped from the branch to the tree and all was good in the world.

The babies fell often, we only helped when one was heading toward the street or parking lot.
They soon began to make it up in the trees independently.

After we put this one back in the tree, the owl became very social.

The little guy really cheesed it up.

Like a little comedian, the branch it's stage.

Finally exhausting himself.

A few views of the small woodland area within the University.

A large rotting tree branch lay on the pathway near their nesting tree.
An owlet sat here comfortably for hours one afternoon after one of it's falls.
I hid behind another tree and watched the baby for hours.
It's reaction to people that passed by was interesting and quite adorable.

As my husband approaches on the path the young owl fans it's feathers out
to appear much larger. It is an attempt to intimidate him.

The owl also clacks it's beak repeatedly as he passes ... more intimidation.

The owl appears relieved thinking it's tactics worked on my husband.

A front view of it fanning it's wings out.

It was really humorous to watch people as they passed the owl too.
I found it interesting how many people just walk ... not paying attention to their surroundings to their point of destination. I am guilty myself of this, which is probably why I found it interesting and then humorous.

A back view of the wing fan.

Think about how you might react if you were on your way to work or class in go mode. Then something, a creature in your peripheral vision suddenly puffs out it's feathers and starts loudly clacking at you. How do you think you might react? Would you scream? Jump? Run? Or Laugh?

The reactions of the people who passed:
Almost every woman that passed was startled and did not hesitate to move away as quickly as possible. Each of these women made at least a five foot radius between themselves and the owl as they passed. It was hard not to giggle. I would have too. The men that passed were all startled, one screamed. But for the most part they all stopped for a moment to laugh at themselves for being startled (they looked around to see if anyone noticed that something startled them, then continued on.) One man even pulled out his phone and took a quick picture after laughing at himself for jumping.

Sometimes life's most remarkable experiences are right around that peripheral corner.

Birds and Blooms Extra November 2009 Issue

Great Horned Owl images by Debbie Miller available now in 2010 Calendars,
Journals and more through

Nature-ally Beautiful Cards offers two Great Horned Owl boxed set options:

8 pack 016 Owl Set and 8 pack 017 Owl Set

A collection of my Great Horned Owl photography

is also available in my smugmug gallery.


  1. Debbie I love these pictures. I can't wait to show Grace. I know she is going to want a calendar to hang in her room.- jeanette Johnson

  2. Thanks Jeanette Tell Grace I said hello, and that I think the baby she saw is back. It is two years old now and sits in the pine trees over the lagoon. Bring her for a visit this weekend to look for it :)

  3. What a wonderful experience. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Fabulous post!

  4. Your two series on the GHOW are wonderful, though I am surprised that mother owl would tolerate any approach to one of her young.

  5. Thanks Kerri and Chris it really was incredible. She was a good mother and kept an eye on us and anyone who passed by at all times. She was very tolerant of human presence partly because it was a university setting. But I really think she knew we were helping. We were of course always respectful. The long branch kept a good distance between us and the baby. It was a hard decision taking that step to intervene. Baby GHOW's don't understand traffic dangers and we just couldn't watch one walk into it. That really was the only time we or professors did intervene. We were relieved and honored that mama allowed us to help. She however was not at all tolerant of natural predators. We watched mama warn a raccoon one evening that was at least twenty trees away from babies (much farther from baby then we were when helping it back in tree). As the raccoon began climbing the tree, mother flew down in attack mode, claws out. The raccoon received a forceful shove and took off, message received. We were in our car in the parking lot when this happened. My camera was in my lap, jaw open ... missed that shot. She really was a good mama.

  6. Holy Cow..Wow..awesome captures! would have loved to have been there!

  7. Wow!! Those are great. How cool! I'm a bit jealous. I need to get out more I think. :-)

  8. Fantastic images and info on your passion bird! I can't wait to see the pics you get this year with your new camera :)