Great Horned Owl Family

Great Horned Owls have nested in a spruce tree in our front yard.

The first hint I had that it was a nest site was when I saw the adult owl land on a branch, then walk along the branch into the middle of the tree.

The first baby owl (owlet) ventured out of the nest and onto a branch on May 27. It spent most of the day sitting with the adult.

Every now and then the baby would launch into a flurry of activity…

…bobbing around and exercising its wings.

Checking out its talons…

By supper time, a second owlet emerged and sat on the branch next to the first one.

On the morning of May 28, all three babies had emerged from the nest and ‘branched’.

Owlet on the right: “This is how you do wing exercises.”
Owlet in the centre: “Duck!”
Owlet on the left: “Duck! I don’t see any ducks.”

Bedtime – the owlet on the right walked back to the nest.

The owlet on the left wanted to go back to the nest, but couldn’t get past the one on the right. Push, poke, butt – but the one on the right wouldn’t budge.

June 1 – Two of the owlets sitting in the rain.

The Feather Files
Name: Great Horned Owl
Species: Bubo virginianus
Date Seen: May 2018
Location: North of Airdrie Alberta, Canada

Size: 55 centimetres (22 inches) long. The female is considerably larger than the male, weighing about 2 kg to the male’s 1 to 1.5 kg. Their wingspan can reach 1.2 m.

Color: In Alberta, neck and back are speckled light brown, streaked and barred with black and white. The undersides are a light colour and heavily barred. The throat is white.

Habitat: It seldom moves far from its place of birth and can be found in most forested and semi-forested regions in North America. The Great Horned Owl does not migrate.

Nesting: They take possession of the previous year’s nest of some other raptor or that of a crow or magpie and lay one to five eggs in late winter. The eggs are incubated for about 30 to 37 days. Young owls are almost fully feathered and capable of short flights at eight weeks of age. In central Alberta (latitude 54°), average hatching dates range from mid-April to early May. The same nest is seldom used for more than one year – the young have usually destroyed the nest by the time they leave it.

Eyes and hearing: The owls have excellent night vision. Their eyes don’t move in their sockets, but they can swivel their heads more than 180 degrees. They have sensitive hearing.

Feathers: 8 days after birth, the downy plumage is replaced by immature plumage. Flight feathers in the wings and tail begin to appear.
– At 2 weeks, they have more than 50 percent of their juvenile plumage.
– At 3 weeks, ear-tufts show as small compact patches.
– At 11 weeks, the facial disc and white bib are well defined.
– At 21 weeks, they are a mottled buff colour.
– At 26 weeks, ear tufts are fully grown.

Feeding: The male brings all the food to the nest until the female finishes brooding the chicks. The female stays with the young and hunts only when food provided by the male is insufficient.

Leaving the nest: By day 40 (about 6 weeks of age) the young are able to climb well, can leave the nest and clamber out along a tree branch. This stage is known as branching.
– By day 45-49 (7 weeks) : The young are fully feathered and capable of flight. They are able to make three to four short flights a day.
– After leaving the nest, the fledglings stay together for several weeks and they may roost together in a nearby tree. The adults will probably roost away from the young, but continue to feed them if needed, even into September.


8 thoughts on “Great Horned Owl Family

  1. I am so jealous, you have no idea. We had a pair of Cooper’s Hawks that nested in our neighbourhood when we lived in the city (once in the oak in our backyard; once in the pine next door); we loved watching them raise their young (one year they left the 3 babies in our backyard whle Mom and Dad when a-hunting; they wrestled and played and even tried bathing in our birdbath, but they didn’t leave the yard until Mom and Dad returned 4 hours later!) We have red-tailed hawks out here (in the country) and I’ve heard owls, but we haven’t see them. We do have a “venue of vultures” (up to 18) that roost in the pines in our yard (they spread their wings in the morning to catch the sun and occasionally do the same when it rains to get a “shower”); when they take off, it sounds like someone shaking out a very heavy blanket. I love nature!


    1. I’m jealous that you have vultures! We had three young ones circling the neighbourhood at the south house – it was kind of eerie how they would follow overhead when we went for a walk…

      We had a single Cooper’s young fledgling in our trees last year.
      As for our owls, this is the second year I’ve seen owlets, but the first time I’ve been able to see them develop like this. They picked a perfect place for the nest – I can take photos right from my front door!


  2. loved this post Margy. You are so lucky to have such a fascinating animal close by. They don’t seem to mind posing for you.


    1. Yes, this is the best woodland encounter I’ve ever had – and I don’t even have to leave the house to watch it! We walk by our front door dozens of times a day – a quick check out the window alerts me to whether I should crack the door open and take a few photos. I’ve taken close to 100 photos so far!


  3. Great pictures!!!!!! Pat says there won’t be many mice in your area with that family living on the property. We rarely see an owl in our area. However, we had a baby moose that got separated from his mom come through our lot one day. We also had a couple of baby bald eagles visit one day when they were first learning to fly. Every spring we wait to see if “our” loons will return and, when they do, we wait to see if there will be a baby or two. Last year we had two babies but only one survived. I am happy to report that “our” loons have arrived. It will be fun to see what hatches.


    1. Yes, Pat is right about the mice! I’m not sure what else they are hunting, since they are nocturnal mostly. But apparently they would not have had three chicks if the food wasn’t plentiful enough.

      Have fun watching your loons this spring!


  4. I love the owls. It’s a blessing to have such a wonderful opportunity to observe these magnificent creatures. I think the duck joke is perfection. lol clever girl!


    1. Thanks E.C. I think I’ll have to add a “This little piggy went to market” caption to the photo with the talons…

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