For more than six weeks I have been following a family of Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus). I discovered them by accident – while my friend and I were walking around the lake one morning, we saw a crowd of people with binoculars and cameras looking up an eucalyptus tree. After inquiring what they were watching, we saw it with our very own eyes: a huge nest in a fork in the upper part of the tree. We could barely make out the pointed ears of Mama Owl and did not see the owlets. There were two of them, we were told.
It took another two weeks until we finally saw the owlets. By then, the babies had grown so much that Mom couldn’t stay in the nest anymore. It was a big nest, but already too small for the owl family. Owls are renters, they do not build their own nests. They “occupy” ready made nests – nature’s way of foreclosure. This one was a hawk’s nest. We saw the owlets peeking out of the nest, curiously looking at the crowd beneath them. Later they ventured out and hopped onto the nearest branch, spreading their wings and, yes, pooping down on the crowd.
From then on I visited the owls almost every day. I enjoyed being a witness to the upbringing of these birds. Tom, the park volunteer who observed the owls every day, shared his incredible knowledge about them. During those six weeks I learned so much about owls that I became an “owl dictionary”. I was able to tell other people about these nocturnal predators when Tom wasn’t around. Connecting with people, sharing our love for nature and hoping that the owls would survive was a wonderful side effect of this unique experience.
And then an entire drama unfolded. One morning when I reached the site one owlet was sitting on the ground under a nearby redwood tree. Less than half an hour before it had fallen out of the nest during a fight with its sibling. Good thing that Tom had already been there and called the ranger. People diverted bikers and dog walkers so that the owlet could be safe. Neither Mama Owl nor Dad Owl who was perching on a nearby eucalyptus tree in his usual spot came to their child’s rescue (and honestly, what could they have done?). The ranger finally arrived – he was one of the very experienced rangers whom I had known for almost ten years. Very gently he put the frightened little owlet who seemed to be uninjured into a box and delivered him to the local Bird Rescue Center. We are getting regular updates, the little owl is doing fine. There are good chances that he can be released into the wild later this year.
His sibling by now has left the nest and climbs, hops and jumps higher and higher up the tree, Mama Owl always nearby, keeping an eye on him. One evening I saw Dad Owl taking off for the hunt – they eat a lot of crows but also little animals like squirrels and skunks, even snakes. A few more weeks and the fledgling will fly – his wings that he spreads constantly are already pretty big. He is slowly loosing his fluff and fuzziness. Soon he will be gone, discovering his world.
Latest update: I just came back from an evening at the lake. The "fallen" owlet has been released last night and was sitting in one of the trees on a lower branch. He looked good and we hope that Mama Owl will start to feed him again.