Great Horned Owls, Gilbert AZ

Early this month, trudging along my usual exercise route on a notably windy day, I noticed a big nest high in one of the cottonwoods: maybe 40 feet up. I wondered idly whether it might be a nest for the hawks I sometimes see.

Equally idly, my eyes wandered over and down a few branches and stopped. What was that lump? Closer examination gave the answer: my first great horned owl in the wild.

Great horned owl resting on a branchThe next day, I saw both owls: One was sitting in the nest helpfully provided by some other bird. Maybe, indeed, one of those hawks I sometimes see.

Pair of great horned owls on nestWill I see the owlets? Will I even have a chance to? A quick check suggests that I might. These owls incubate their eggs for 30 – 37 days; the babies can leave the nest and might sit on nearby branches at about 40 days, and can fly by about 49 days. I don’t know when the eggs were laid, but there’s a small chance that the babies will be big enough and active enough for me to see them, even from 40 feet below, before we have to go. Stay tuned!

And as a side note, if this guy thinks he’s tired now, wait until he’s chasing after the kids.

Great horned owl snoozing on a branch


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10 Responses to Great Horned Owls, Gilbert AZ

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    We have three great-horned owls in the woods up above us.
    Thought 1: when they choose not to move, they might as well be cast in pottery.
    Thought 2: I know they’re in those woods, because one of them swooped by about five feet above my head — utterly silently. Other birds make noises as the wind whistles through their feathers, but owls seem to have special feathers that don’t make any noise. Aside from, great horned owls are damned big birds! Especially when it goes by so close to my scalp.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – I’d love to see one of these in motion, even though I know I have zero chance of making the shot. But I get your point about scalp proximity . . .

  2. Tom Watson says:

    Thanks for the pictures. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a great horned owl. Well, maybe in captivity but never in the wild.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Yes, it’s exciting to see a wild one, for sure. TV and aviaries aren’t the same as the local patch of bush.

  3. How very excellent! I am fascinated by the various ways their colours and arrangements of feathers provide camouflage. They disappear against rough bark, smooth bark, shadowed or dappled or brightly lit bark. The eye patches are identical to a tawny branch catching reflected light on its underside. Their ears can twist like dried leaves. Their beaks and talons could be twigs. Whether the head is hunched or swiveled backward the silhouette looks more like a part of the tree than like a creature. However, in the shots at the top and bottom right, the face resembles that of a cat. Does the configuration of their features appear to other animals as sly, smug, or imperturbed as they do to me?

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – The first time I saw/noticed it, I was unsure until I got right close. There was just something about the lump that looked bird-like, not tree-like. And for sure, this colouring is great camouflage for this locale. I read that their colouring varies across the continent – brownish here, grayish there, and so on – presumably linked to what they’re blending in with. I don’t know whether animals attribute attitude – I expect not – but I know I’d hate to look up and know this was the last face I was going to see.

  4. Mary Gibson says:

    These are very good!

  5. Jim Robertson says:

    Nice pics of the owl, not that easy to get with them being so high up.

    Based on the Great Horned Owls at Mud Lake up here at home, they nest in late Feb/early Mar and the owlets when they leave the nest (in early/mid May) and will come down almost to the ground, and then over the next few days move back up higher. Not sure what the timing is on your GHO down there, but maybe you’ll get to see an owlet quite close before you journey home.

    The owlets should be popping their heads up over the top of the nest before that hopefully.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – The Cornell site talks about a late Jan or early Feb egg laying, which coincided pretty well with my sighting of owls hanging around a nest. Here’s hoping! And if not, I’ll just have to see if I can catch the cycle at home.

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