In celebration of the Year of the Bird, we will highlight some of the birds and their behaviors that you can observe at certain times throughout the year.
Nothing sparks the attention of a neighborhood like a new family moving in. On a quiet block of well-kept, mid-century homes, an unlikely pair took up residence in a penthouse condo formerly occupied for years by . . . red-tailed hawks?? Yep, these aren’t the typical new suburban arrivals, they are great horned owls. This pair, and especially their offspring, have united neighbors much more than backyard BBQs and block parties ever would.
I learned about the nest from a supervisor, and when a supervisor suggests someone get some photos, it’s pretty smart career-wise to grab a camera and go. I’m glad I did — I’ve taken some good photos and talked with some great people. Each trip (I have made three so far — twice with my mom), I met with either neighbors seeing me outside with a big ol’ lens and coming out to chat, or others from blocks away pushing strollers with other kids in tow to show their children some local wildlife.
Great horned owls are the largest owl in Colorado, and the largest of the “tufted” owls in North America. The males usually begin calling for a mate as early as December and January. They use abandoned nests of other species such as red-tailed hawks, bald eagles, herons, crows or old leaf nests of squirrels. The nests are located 15–70 feet above the ground. The female lays one to six white eggs with the average ranging from two to three. Both parents incubate the eggs for about a month. The young stay in the nest for 6–7 weeks and begin to fly when they are 10–12 weeks of age. The female tends to provide most of the care.
Although I have only seen two owlets at a time, according to the neighbors, there are three chicks from this nest. One group of owl watchers told of how one of the young had left the nest and taken a tumble into a garden of irises. The neighbors (correctly) decided the right thing to do was to leave it there. The next day it was back up in the tree with the mother feeding it along with the others. One night, I spent about an hour in someone’s driveway, and when he rode up on his bike, he shared how he and his wife had sat on their porch the night before and watched the female parent feed all three fledgling owlets in the tree in their front yard.
One neighbor recently emailed me, thanking me for the photos I had shared. She told me that as the chicks get bigger and better at flying, they are harder to find and observe. Slowly this wildlife watching opportunity will fade, but I’m sure the neighbors will look forward to next spring with greater anticipation.
Wayne D. Lewis is the editor and art director of Colorado Outdoors magazine.