Great Horned Owls – Apex Predators

An Apex Predator is one that is NOT preyed upon when it is a healthy adult in the wild. I have seen three Apex bird species in the woods and fields that surround our house: Red-tailed hawk, Common Raven and Great Horned Owl. The Coyotes here would be considered apex too because we don’t have wolves or bears.

The Great Horned Owl is the only Apex Predator in our woods lately. Last night, from 9:45  to 10:15 PM, I got to watch one adult Great Horned Owl hunt and three Owlets beg for food. I suppose the owlets are also learning to hunt.

The owls have now moved into our back yard. (Prior to that they were in the woods in the front of our property). There is an open area here with grass, flowers and ornamental trees. Beyond the fence (that protects my flowers from being eaten by deer) is native prairie grass. Beyond that is a grain field.

At dusk (9:45 PM) I spotted a flurry of wings as one owl lifted off from the grass near the playground. Then I saw an owl on the fence. Then another owl.

Four owls were flying from the fence to the playground and back again. Fortunately, I was able to get one photo of all three owlets perched on one of the boards at the top of the swing/slide structure.

I was quickly losing enough light to photograph the birds. My last photo was this one – an owlet and an adult.

After that, the adult owl flew down into the grass between the fence and the erratic (glacier deposited) rocks that you see in the background of this photo. Soon all three owlets flew to the top of the rocks and started to call for food.

A New Yorker visits Vermont and asks, “Where did all these rocks come from?” And the farmer says, “They were brought here by a glacier.”
“Well, what happened to the glacier?”
And the farmer replies, “It went back for more rocks.”
– Blacklock’s Reporter –

The playground, this morning, is the preferred resting spot for one owlet. An adult was there too, but it eventually flew off to a more secluded tree.

I’m going to have to rethink which area of the yard I can garden in today…

These were the owlets on May 28.

Here they are on June 1 when they started flying.

What Apex Predators live near you?

This is a ‘Six on Saturday’ post – thanks to The Propagator.

Great Horned Owlets Take Flight

The owlets ventured out onto a branch on May 27. Within a few days they were exercising their wings.

On June 1, wing flapping was more frenzied and occasionally one of them would even lift off the branch briefly.

One minute all three owlets were on their ‘home’ branch. Ten minutes later I checked on them again, and one owlet (the one on the left) had taken its first short flight.

This seemed to take all of them by surprise. The two owlets that were left behind kept looking down at the third.

The third owlet spent a lot of time bobbing its head/body and looking back up at the other two. (These movements help the owl judge the position and distance to everything around it.)

June 3 – All three owlets have left the ‘home’ tree. When I find one, it is always in the NW quadrant of our woods – about an acre of aspen, willow and a lot of spruce trees.

June 7 – The same owlet as the previous photo?! I don’t know. They all look alike.

June 19 – found all three owlets in the same area. Two were together in one tree.

The third owlet was in a nearby tree.

June 28 – one owlet and one parent were in a new part of the woods. The owlet is flying well, though it lacks some grace when it lands on a wobbly branch.

The adults are usually in the vicinity of the owlets. I often see them on an aspen branch at the edge of the woods. This is one of the adults.

The second adult was in a nearby tree.

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

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.


Cooper’s Hawk near Calgary, Alberta

It has been a busy summer in the mixed Aspen/Willow/Spruce forest of our acreage community north of Calgary, Alberta. In our section of the forest alone, the Great Horned Owl, Magpie, and Crow have all nested and produced young. The ‘new bird in town’, though was the Cooper’s Hawk. I encountered this one when I was walking along the edge of a grove of Aspen on July 23rd.

It flew from tree to tree in a large circle, scolding me as it flew. Another bird was chirping at the hawk (which is what had attracted me to that corner of our property in the first place.)

The female adult Cooper’s Hawk is about the size of a crow. Males can be much smaller – about the size of the birds that a Cooper’s Hawk preys on…

On July 31, I saw the Cooper’s Hawk fledgling.

What a mixture of disheveled youth and fierce raptor! Bits of fluffy down still poke out from under serious feathers – the beak and talons are the tools of a soon to be deadly predator.

On August 11th, a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk landed on the fence at the back of the property. A few hours later, I found a juvenile in the Aspen woods. I’m assuming this is the same bird as the fledgling in the previous photos.

Note the yellow eyes and the brown ‘drips’ or tear-drops on the white chest and abdomen.

The Feather Files
Name: Cooper’s Hawk
Species: Accipiter cooperii
Native to and Migration: The Cooper’s hawk is a short to medium-distance migrant. They summer and breed in southern Canada, and throughout most of the United States. They winter in the southern US, with some birds migrating as far south as Mexico and Honduras.
Date Seen: July to August, 2017
Location: A half hour (in car riding time) north east of Calgary, Alberta.

Notes: Cooper’s Hawks capture prey from cover or while flying quickly through dense vegetation. Adult birds have short, broad wings and long tails for navigating through these woodlands and thickets. They eat mainly medium sized birds, but also hunt chipmunks, hares, mice, squirrels, and bats.

Their hunting style is dangerous – studies found that many of these hawks had healed fractures in the bones of the chest.

Great Horned Owl in Arizona

For the past few weeks we have been serenaded by several Great Horned Owls. Their calls, a series of deep hoots (who-who-ah-whoo, who-ah-whoo) break the silence of the late evening or early morning. It is always too dark to see it, or take pictures.

Today, however, owl starting hooting before sundown. It sounded very close. I scanned the nearby tree, and finally spotted it. Unfortunately, owl was mostly hidden by a veil of willowy leaves. I didn’t want to scare ‘my’ owl away, so I slowly worked my way along the back of our house, well away from the tree. I tried to be quiet, but it is almost impossible to walk quietly on gravel – crunch, crunch, crunch.


Owl didn’t budge. When I had reached the optimum location, I was able to take a few good photos.


Then I crunch, crunch, crunched my way back across the yard and into the house. Hope this is the first of many more owl encounters, and the last of the rodents who burrow under the prickly pear cactus patch.

The Feather Files
Name: Great Horned Owl
Species: Bubo virginianus
Native to and Migration: Found all across North America up to the northern tree line; no regular migration – individuals may wander long distances in fall and winter, sometimes moving southward.
Date Seen: February, 2017
Location: North of Fountain Hills, Arizona

This week’s Photo Challenge is Against the Odds.

Red-tailed Hawk in a Spring Prairie Snowstorm

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month. – Henry Van Dyke –


Spring! At my place in Alberta, the grass is getting green, the first daffodils are blooming, the robins are building a nest in the spruce tree in the back yard, and the hawk is… huddled on a fence post because it is snowing again!

The Feather Files
Name: Red-tailed Hawk
Species: Buteo jamaicensis
Native to and Migration: These are the most common hawk in North America. A Resident or short-distance migrant, birds from Alaska, Canada, and the northern Great Plains will fly south for a few months in winter – but they remain in North America. Birds across the rest of the continent typically stay put,
Date Seen: April 2014
Location: North of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

This link will take you to all the photos submitted for this challenge: The Daily Post Photo Challenge: Spring

Great Horned Owl in Alberta – If My Aumakua was an Owl

Many cultures believe that if an animal makes an appearance (physically or symbolically) in an unusual way or repeatedly in a short span of time, then that animal is the spirit of a deceased relative. This spirit is attempting to guide you, protect you or get a message to you. The Hawaiians call this spirit your Aumakua.

If I believed in the aumakua, or any of the many other gods, goddesses, demigods, saints, divine forces, deities, and spirits that inhabit mankind’s mind, then my aumakua would be the Owl.

We frequently hear the hoots of the Great Horned Owl, and we often see it – though seldom very close.  Last week, however, in the midst of a string of bitterly cold days, Owl took refuge on a sunny branch of a big spruce tree by the garage.


The Car Guy spotted the owl as we were getting ready to drive to town. Owl was not particularly concerned by our comings and goings as we packed up the car. It wasn’t even bothered when the Jeep was backed out and was within twenty feet of the tree. Then, silently, it flew off ahead of us down the driveway.

Although this was an awesome event, I don’t believe that Owl appeared in my yard with a message from my ancestors. Owl was just there looking for a sunny, windless spot to perch on a very cold day…and perhaps hoping we would throw another dead mouse out onto the snowbank nearby.

Thanks to A.A. Milne, though, it isn’t hard to imagine what an owl might say!

When we asked Pooh what the opposite of an Introduction was, he said “The what of a what?” which didn’t help us as much as we had hoped, but luckily Owl kept his head and told us that the Opposite of an Introduction, my dear Pooh, was a Contradiction; and, as he is very good at long words, I am sure that that’s what it is.
– The House at Pooh Corner, A.A. Milne –

The Feather Files
Name: Great Horned Owl
Species: Bubo virginianus
Native to and Migration: Found all across North America up to the northern tree line; no regular migration – individuals may wander long distances in fall and winter, sometimes moving southward.
Date Seen: February, 2014
Location: North of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Swainson’s Hawk on Fence


The Swainson’s Hawks can be seen quite frequently on the fence posts across the road from us. The fence circles the 119 acre property – a mix of hay, shrub, and aspen forest that has seen only a few owners since the First Nations People called this land their home. For as long as I can remember, the land was leased to the man who ran a loam hauling business out of the grey shop in the middle of the field. He had the impression the owner would someday sell him the land, but when she died, the Estate had other ideas. The land was sold for close to three million dollars, well beyond the budget of the truck driver, or us for that matter.


Three million dollars is a lot of money for a hay field, even if it has moose and hawks and owls living in the woods. Three million dollars isn’t all that much money for a hay field that sits on the edge of a rapidly growing little city.

Last week a ‘For Sale’ sign appeared on the property again. The new owners had acquired a few more parcels of land next to the hay field, bringing the total up to 206 acres of land. The new price tag? Just shy of 30 million dollars. Now that is optimistic inflation!

The Feather Files
Name: Swainson’s Hawk
Species: Buteo swainsoni
Native to and Migration: In fall they fly to their Argentine wintering grounds in one of the longest migrations of any raptor. They form flocks of hundreds or thousands as they travel.
Date Seen: June, 2012
Location: North of Calgary, Alberta, Canada