I visited the Great Horned Owl’s nest at 6:45AM to find just one owlet resting sleepy-eyed at the entrance.
The adult male Great Horned Owl was standing guard, a hundred yards away, on his usual perch.
I watched the lone nestling nod for fifteen minutes. He was so sleepy! It’s understandable though, given the hour. He’s young and he’s an owl, it’s late. But looking around I saw the female, wide-eyed and awake behind me in a tree. She looked a lot more exciting!
She was an impressive bird; fully lit by the rising sun and framed by the tree. Every soft feather was in place and she was flashing three-inch long nails. She was gorgeous! That assumes you like a female who can turn her head 360 degrees.
Suddenly she focused on something in the distance and stretched her neck upward to see it. She did four or five neck extensions each time rising a little higher, as if something she saw out there was passing out of sight. When she was sufficiently certain it was something good to eat she went after it.
On her way she flew past me, but so gently I didn’t hear a wing beat.
I swung around 180 degrees to catch her arrival at the nest, but she beat me. She was already standing at the entrance when I got into position.
Not only that, she had a pack rat in her mouth now too. She is amazing! It took her about ten seconds to spot, capture and deliver dinner to the family.
After resting briefly at the entrance she turned to call the kids to dinner! All three came forward. One chick was especially hungry; he chewed on Mom’s leg feathers in anticipation.
She delivers the WHOLE rat to him, no longer torn into little bites or divided equally; he got it all!
It was a fat rat too and he struggled mightily as Mom and his brother watch in amazement.
But the rat would not go down…just so far and no farther. He coughed it out time after time.
At this age nestlings are expected to handle the whole rat. Mom isn’t going to be cutting up their food any longer.
He kept trying to swallow it, but it was just to big. Mom and brother intently watched this rat-gagging episode for two and a half minute, according to my camera’s time-stamp.
When Mom couldn’t take it any longer, she flew off leaving the youngsters to figure it out for themselves. She joined the male, who wisely avoided the feeding-the-kids drama all together.
So now, ‘What’s junior to do?’ He has a rat he can’t swallow, a brother who can’t help him and a Mom who left him! This required consultation.
He coughed up the rat one more time and consulted with his brother for advice. They stare at the dead rat for a full 17 minutes imagining their options.
After much staring and pondering they came up with the only solution they’ve experienced in their short lives. They lie down on top of it and go to sleep!
April 21, 2012