This Great Horned Owl is still a chick. It’s hard to believe that just a couple of months ago this downy feathered bird was barely lifting its head out of a nearby nest! Nearly every late afternoon it makes its way to the trellis on the south side of the butterfly garden. This innocently gregarious creature is happy to interact with us humans and in fact can make quite a noise if wanting an attentive audience to watch it attempt to pick up an oversized branch or try a new way of leaping from one end of the pergola to the other.
The great horned owl (Bubo Virginianus) is a large and powerful bird of prey, with characteristic horn-like ear tufts from which it gains its common name . The second largest owl in North America , the great horned owl also has a distinctive white ‘bib’, or throat patch, as well extraordinarily large yellow eyes and powerful, fully feathered talons. It is an opportunistic hunter, the great horned owl has a remarkably varied diet that includes insects, rabbits, hares, opossums, skunks, ducks, geese, herons, reptiles, frogs and fish, although does not appear particularly interested in our island’s Gopher Tortoises!
One of the earliest species to begin nesting, the great horned owl starts breeding in late January often using previously abandoned nests. The couple stays together with the female incubating the clutch for between 30 and 37 days, with the male feeding the female throughout this period. Not a bad deal!
Once hatched, the nestlings remain in the nest for between 6 and 7 weeks, and begin to fly between 10 and 12 weeks old. The nestlings are voracious feeders and weigh around 75 percent of the total adult mass when they leave the nest, after which time they remain within close proximity to the adults until the end of summer or early autumn. The great horned owl is a sedentary species and even the most northerly populations do not migrate. However, if food becomes scarce, they may move to areas where there is more abundant prey. Apparently this is not an issue on Useppa, where we are generally treated with hearing their call!
A well-adapted predator, the great horned owl has large eyes which provide it with excellent night vision, making it perfectly suited for hunting at night. Although the eyes are unable to move within the eye socket, the neck of the great horned owl is able to rotate 180 degrees, giving it nearly all-round vision. So keep your own eyes peeled for these beautiful birds which easily reach 18-24 inches.