It has been a busy but great spring, lots of rain and lots of rodents. The excessive amount of rodents has given plenty of food to a variety of predators including our local owls. A number of the nests I have been observing had larger clutches this year having been well fed on voles, ground squirrels, and cottontail rabbits. Great Horned Owls were the first to fledge with late April being the beginning of the exodus from the nest. This bird can be found nesting in a variety of habitats including cottonwood trees, cliffs, red-tailed hawk nests, and evergreen forests. A number of nests I had been observing this spring, fledged a group of four. It seemed I could not go anywhere without running into a family of these beautiful owls.Next to fledge was a family of Long-eared Owls which started setting on eggs by late March of this year. The adults fledged six little ones into the willows surrounding the nest sight making for difficult visuals for photographs, branches being everywhere. Still, with six young, at least one would be more visible than the others allowing for a somewhat clear photo. These small versions of the Great Horned Owl would watch cautiously as I moved around, not turning just their heads but there whole bodies in unison to my movements. Very fun to watch!
I also had the honor to witness and photograph a family of Great Gray Owls this spring. While walking to the nest sight I felt as though I needed to be very quiet and walk gently through the trees so as not to disturb this precious nursery. This large bird can be quite tame and come in very close, seemingly fearless of human presence. On several occasions the female flew silently just over my head to land on a low perch just above me to hunt. It was truly an awesome moment in my life. This behavior of being fearless was almost it’s demise in the early part of the previous century. A nest of three, they fledged in early June. One owlet was in the top of a “leaner” aspen, another on the ground, and the third still lingering in the nest when I left this family.
The last of my owls to fledge is the Burrowing Owl with nine young still in the natal burrow. These young are quite comical and have funny antics as they scurry around the top of the burrow awaiting dinner to be presented to them via mom or dad. They are eating a number of voles with an occasional bird brought in by the adults. Typically the male has been the hunter while the female stays close to the burrow. A transfer of the vole is then made from the male to the female with the female delivering and feeding the young. A sudden call of intruder can be made at any time by either adult which will send the little ones scurrying down the hole into the safety zone. These birds are little gems of our sagebrush areas.
There are numerous owls, adult and juvenile, in this place I call home. Summer starts tomorrow, I hope to continue to photograph a few of these owls as they mature into great hunters of this over-abundance of rodents!