By Lynn Colburn
This young Great Horned Owl (fledgling or “brancher”) was found under a tree by Laura Marks while she was cleaning out branches. She immediately stopped and left it alone. This owl eventually made its way back to its nest with its parents.
These are large, thick-bodied owls with two prominent feathered tufts on the head. Great Horned Owls are mottled gray-brown, with reddish-brown faces and a neat white patch on the throat. Their overall color tone varies regionally from sooty to pale.
Great Horned Owls are found all across North America up to the northern tree line, including in agricultural areas. They are nocturnal but sometimes hunt in broad daylight. You may see them at dusk sitting on fence posts or tree limbs at the edges of open areas, or flying across roads or fields with stiff, deep beats of their rounded wings. Their call is a deep, stuttering series of four to five hoots.
According to the website, https://www.discoverwildcare.org/ spending time on the ground is part of the natural maturation process for fledgling, but if the fledgling is covered in down (white, fluffy feathers), it probably needs assistance. Factors to consider if you find one, is if it is injured, if parents are present, check if its nest is visible and if they fledgling is in immediate danger from other animals or people. Call WildCare’s 24-hour Living with Wildlife Hotline 415-456-SAVE (7283) immediately if you find a baby raptor (or any baby wildlife) on the ground. Renesting of baby raptors is frequently possible, so take careful note of the location of the bird and the surroundings.
These have the most diverse diet of all North American raptors. They have a large range of prey from tiny rodents to hares, skunks, geese, and raptors. They eat mostly mammals and birds—especially rabbits, hares, mice, but also voles, moles, rats, gophers, chipmunks, squirrels, woodchucks, prairie dogs, bats, skunks, house cats, porcupines, ducks, loons, owls, hawks, crows, ravens, doves and starlings.
Great Horned Owls typically nest in trees such as cottonwood, juniper, beech, pine, and others. They usually adopt a nest that was built by another species, but they also use cavities in live trees, dead snags, deserted buildings, cliff ledges, and human-made platforms. They occasionally nest on the ground. Pairs may roost together near the future nest site for several months before laying eggs. They generally don’t use the same nest again.
Their clutch size consists of 1-4 eggs with an incubation period of 30-37 days and hatchlings usually nest for approximately 42 days.