On the last Saturday of March, J and I had breakfast-coffee at one of our favourite coffee shops and flipped through the Calgary Metro, a free daily newspaper. There was a little story of some owlets on the University of Calgary. A more specific location was not mentioned, only that they were in a high pedestrian traffic area. Hmmm…
The following Tuesday, I walked to the campus and asked every person without headphones on if they knew where the owls’ nest was. A few people gave me puzzled looks, others thought it was a bookstore and finally, a young lady said she had seen some owlets near the train station. At the bottom of the train station stairs, a copse of spruce trees was cordoned off with yellow caution tape. I climbed up the stairs and looked down. There was a nest, but no owls. And the nest seemed more like a crow’s nest than an owl’s nest. I didn’t know at the time that Great Horned Owls often use the old nests of other birds. Actually, the types of nests used by Great Horned Owls are of a wider variety than any other bird in the Americas. The tree nests of other species are most common but other options are large tree cavities, cliffs, a variety of man-made structures and sometimes laying eggs on the ground will do.
Walking north from the train station, I scanned the trees on both sides of the street for large, owl-shaped tree-branch stumps. After 5 minutes of searching, “hmm maybe, probably wishful thinking” turned out to be an owlet!
Stumpy – my first owlet!
When I walked over to look at his face, Stumpy opened his eyes to see whoooo I was.
And then he returned to napping.
Stumpy had two siblings. This one looked like it was having a particularly sweet dream.
And this one decided to stretch and fluff a bit.
I saw one of the parents.
The four owls were in one tree. The parent is a bit hard to spot (near the bottom, right side of the V).
I went back the next day and found a parent and two owlets near the previous day’s tree.
The owlet below must be the one that was found on the ground under the owls’ nest on March 16th. It still has a bit of red paint on its forehead which I suppose The Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation used to mark the bird (see news article with photo here). The owlet spent a few days at the rehabilitation centre and was returned to the nest on March 19th. By March 29th, when I first saw the three owlets, they had all fledged and left the nest.
The other parent and third owlet were in a spruce tree across the street.
And that was the last time I saw that family of owls. I did meet another one a few weeks later…
Owls are some of the earliest nesters in Alberta. They have been observed to lay eggs between January 28th and May 11th, with a mean date of March 7th. Only the female incubates the eggs; the male brings her food from his night-time hunts. Females lay 1-4 eggs over a period of 1-7 days. Incubation starts after the first egg is laid and lasts 30-37 days.
Facts about Great Horned Owls that were not from personal observation came from Birds of North America Online:
Artuso, Christian, C. Stuart Houston, Dwight G. Smith and Christoph Rohner. 2014. Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online