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The Birds of Winter: Great Horned Owls

We are so fortunate to have a new Guest Blogger for this site: Pam Laing, local birder and photographer, has agreed to share with us A Year of Okanagan Birds. For those of you who attended Pam’s lecture at Creekside Theatre in February, you’ll know you’re in for a real treat. Welcome, Pam!

The Birds of Winter: which bird might I see today?

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl in Winter
Click photos to enlarge

Did you know that several species of owl are here all winter? The owl you’re most likely to see is the Great Horned Owl. These are big birds (22”/nearly 56cm), the size of a Red-tailed Hawk. As is also true of many hawks and eagles, the females are larger than the males. They can be found in many different wooded habitats and are often seen on prominent perches at dusk. Their deep resonant hooting at dawn and dusk is also often heard in late winter. 

Great Horned Owl with chicks
Female adult Great Horned Owl with chicks

They are not dependent on seasonal fruits, seeds or insects to feed their young because they are hunters. They therefore breed very early in the year, sometimes as early as January. They don’t build their own nests but use the old nests of hawks or crows or will use rotten stumps or sturdy treetops.

The name Great Horned Owl is somewhat misleading, as those are not really horns on top of the owl’s head.

Great Horned Owl chicks in May or June
Chick in May or June

Nor are they its ears, which are tiny and tucked away invisibly on the sides of the bird’s head. The ‘horns’ are really just tufts of feathers. They give the birds a cat-like face.

Great Horned Owls are much feared by other birds including other owls. They are fearsome hunters with exceptional hearing, keen eyesight and silent flight feathers.

Great Horned Owl chick in October
Great Horned Owl chick in October

They will take small rodents or other mammals, up to the size of rabbits. They will take cats or small dogs too! One nest that I read about had seventeen cat collars in it! So if you have a cat or small dog, be warned……

 

 

 

 

 

 

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