I am a bit behind on my blogs so wanted to get my experiences tracking a Great Horned Owl (GHO) family that nests right off the well traveled UW-Madison Lakeshore Preserve path. I was able to get out there on four separate days; March 13th, 17th, 20th, and 27th.
Two things that amaze me about the GHO are that they are such early breeders (breeding begins in January and February) and that the owlets leave the nest and begin engaging in what is known as “tree-hopping” almost as soon as they leave the nest. I was fortunate enough to see the mom, dad and the two owlets each time which was fantastic.
When I first viewed the nest, the mother was sitting on the chicks and they were out of site. Then nest was man-made and only around 20 feet up in the tree with easy viewing access.
The male was roosting in a small pine tree that was right at the front door to the UW Natatorium.
The owlets were visible in the nest on this day, but had not left it.
Mother was never away from the nest at this time. This tends to change as they are able to leave the nest at which point mother, while remaining close, will at times be several feet away.
I visited the nest in the evening near sunset and the owl family was much more active. As you can see, the owlets develop quickly and were out of the nest.
Mother was ever-vigilant but was several branches away from the owlets. The sun was almost setting at this point and the light reflected nicely off of her ears and back.
As I was just getting ready to leave, the father suddenly swooped in and landed in a tree near me as he prepared for his night hunt. He gave me one of the best owl pictures I have ever taken as the light of the setting sun reflected off of him and the leaves around him so nicely. Notice how his colors are perfectly matched with the tree bark and the dead leaves.
I was able to see the owlets and both parents on March 27th but it was very overcast and there were no good looks as they had moved to a tree about a hundred yards from the nest. I was still pleased with the looks I did get.