Owlets at the University of Calgary

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!

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When I walked over to look at his face, Stumpy opened his eyes to see whoooo I was.

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And then he returned to napping.

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Stumpy had two siblings. This one looked like it was having a particularly sweet dream.

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And this one decided to stretch and fluff a bit.

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I saw one of the parents.

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The four owls were in one tree. The parent is a bit hard to spot (near the bottom, right side of the V).

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I went back the next day and found a parent and two owlets near the previous day’s tree.

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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.

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The other parent and third owlet were in a spruce tree across the street.

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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
http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/372

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32 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your observations. The owls feather markings are so intricate and beautiful. How lucky you are to see these owls so closely.

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    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the owl photos, Sharon :-). I feel very lucky to have read that newspaper article and spent some time near these beautiful birds.

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  2. Beautiful! I’m glad you found them in the end. I am not surprised by how many funny looks you’d get asking people that. So many people walk around completely oblivious of anything around them these days.

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    1. I’m glad you liked the owls, Hazel :-). The university campus is quite large so I expected that a lot of people hadn’t seen or heard of the nest. But when I was taking pictures of the owls, very few people stopped to look at them too. Most were in a hurry to get somewhere.

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  3. I’m impressed with your successful sleuthing and great captures!

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    1. Thanks, Eliza :-)! It was good fun!

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  4. OMG! I love your experience, observation and story about the owl family; the photos are terrific and you introduced me to new behaviors of local owls on Whidbey. We have the Great Horn and other species of owls in our neighborhood; in the early a.m. they carry on loud conversations with each other keeping in touch while distance apart. I love hearing them but fear for their disappearance due to people harvesting the evergreens. I look forward to reading more of your fun and interesting posts in the future. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed my story and photos, Lois :-). How neat that you can hear Great Horned Owls in your neighbourhood. I’ve never heard them making sounds. Always sad to see forests and other natural habitats go. Luckily, some natural spaces are preserved. Hopefully, enough evergreens will be preserved for the wellbeing of you and the owls and all the other creatures that need them.

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  5. Absolutely love reading your adventure and sleuthing to find the owls…and what a fantastic find it was. Your photographs are beautiful and amazing, such magnificent birds. How exciting it must have been to see this lovely family, thank you so much for sharing the magic.

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    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the adventure, Haunani :-)! Thanks for sharing the magic with me. I was very excited to see these beautiful, large and somewhat alien birds in a very human landscape.

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  6. Beautiful Myriam! Oh the babies are so sweet. Love owls. πŸ’œ

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    1. Thanks, Laura :-). I didn’t post any of the creepy looking pictures of the owlets :-D. Sometimes, when they squint and stare, they can look a bit scary. Owls have very expressive eyes.

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  7. Myriam Cherie,

    Quelle belle aventure.J aime Snoopy.

    super interessantes sont tes observations.Un immense plaisir de te lire et me faire decouvrir de beaux moments ds la vie.

    Bonne semaine et j ai hate a ta nouvelle expedition.

    jeanne xxxxx

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    1. ChΓ¨re Jeanne, merci pour tes jolis mots. Le petit hibou s’appelle ”Stumpy” car de loin, il ressemble au reste d’une grosse branche coupΓ©e. Heureuse que l’aventure t’as plu. Bonne semaine Γ  toi aussi. πŸ™‚ xo

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  8. I went back to my archives as far back as 2011 so far. That year I saw Great Horned Owl owlets. To date I’ve only published the parent. That’s so typical of me. I have thousands of images that haven’t been worked on or published.
    The owlets I saw in the wild were a few weeks older than the owlets you saw. I never published the owlets because I had hoped to find them younger. Perhaps they’ve marinated long enough to show them? You certainly have me excited about the owlets again. I probably should go back to see if they still roost where I found them then.

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    1. If you are happy with the quality of your photos, I’d be super keen to see them. Younger owlets are a bit cuter ;-). But it is cool to see them in all stages of development. I’m also curious about whether the owls are still in the area where you saw them. I guess you haven’t been there in a while?

      I tell myself I should take less photos because so many of them just get lost on my hard drive. But I seem to be hooked on having records of new birds or old birds doing something cool or just old birds that are closer and in better light. It’s just such a thrill to have a photo! Most of them are not good, but there are more good ones than I have time to process. So they are marinating :-D. Sounds like your owlets are ready for some post-marinating action…

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      1. The light wasn’t good as they were in the branches of the trees, and the siblings were on different branches, but with a little dodging and burning in Photoshop I would be able to show them as I saw them.
        It’s been several years since I took the photos. Perhaps it is time to work on them.

        I haven’t been back to see them for 3 years! I should call to see how they’re faring and if they’re still there.

        I have lots of really bad images on my hard-drive, but don’t delete them hoping technology improves enough to save them. I just keep buying memory in the meantime. And, so, they marinate. πŸ™‚ Maybe by then I’ll be a better photographer.

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        1. I think you’re an excellent photographer and photo editor. But I guess there is always room for improvement… especially since you have a passion for learning new skills. πŸ™‚

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  9. Amazing photos of the owlets (quite adorable) and their parents. Your perseverance paid off big time!

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    1. Thanks, Michael :-). I’m glad you liked the owls. I wonder if I can get as lucky with the Peregrine Falcons…

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  10. Wow! You are so lucky. They are so handsome. I haven’t seen an owl in a wild, only heard their call.

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    1. I’m lucky I read the newspaper article on them. Otherwise, I never would have known they were there. Hope you get to see some owls one day. Maybe other people have seen the ones you heard?

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  11. Wow, what an amazing experience. I’ve never seen an owl, let alone been lucky enough to see babies and parents! You got some great photos of them… a wonderful blog post!

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    1. Thanks for your wonderful comment, Laura. I’m so glad you liked the owl photos. I felt quite lucky to see them. Hope you get to see some one day… or a few other cool new birds. πŸ™‚

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  12. Lucky you! Terrific post.

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  13. Live the series….esp image 2…. Wonderful

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    1. Thanks for your lovely compliment, Judy. I’m so glad you enjoyed the owls. πŸ™‚

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  14. Fabulous! I would be so thrilled to see these guys! Lucky you~

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    1. Thanks, Cindy! I’m so glad you enjoyed the owlets. I rarely see owlets so I felt quite lucky. Have you seen owlets? I noticed that you have some beautiful owl photos on your blog. πŸ™‚

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