Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Firsts: Great Horned Owl

The first time I saw a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) in the wild, I was literally shaking with excitement.  I was on a birding field trip at Merced National Wildlife Refuge last February, and had been in the field for several hours already, logging quite the impressive list of species (impressive to me, that is). 

I spotted a large nest of sticks in a leafless tree, and was in the middle of wondering aloud if it could be an owl's nest, when a large head and two ear tufts poked over the rim of twigs.
My first glimpse of a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) in the wild!
Great Horned Owls nest early in the season, remodeling a nest that was built the previous year by another species, often a Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) or other hawk; they will also utilize nests built and abandoned by ravens or crows, herons, even tree squirrels.  Nests are typically located in trees, but may also be in natural cavities or on cliff ledges, which explains the Great Horned Owl pair I heard in Joshua Tree National Park (though unfortunately I never found them).
Nesting Great Horned Owl
Mated pairs of Great Horned Owls are monogamous, and may remain within the same territory after the breeding season, though roosting separately.  The female is larger in size than the male, but the male has a deeper voice; when a pair is calling together, the difference in pitch is obvious and it becomes easy to differentiate the male from the female.
The non-zoomed-in version; my actual first glimpse.

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