Return to the Platform

by Carl Strang

One of my annual rituals is to go out in mid-February and seek the nest of the great horned owl on the preserve that I am monitoring (Mayslake for the past several years). This year that task proved to be much too easy, as the birds returned to the location of their nest in 2012. That was when they made the arguably poor choice of laying their eggs on top of a squirrel nest. It worked as long as the female was incubating quietly, but after the eggs hatched the nest began to fall apart from all the comings and goings. One of the babies fell to the ground and we rescued it. After it was checked out and cleaned up at the Willowbrook Wildlife Center, it was returned and its dubious home was placed on a more solid platform.

Mike Wiseman did the honors.

Mike Wiseman did the honors.

Ultimately one youngster branched.

Ultimately one youngster branched.

The platform remained, and we hoped the owls would use it, but they apparently did not nest in 2013, and last year they nested in an unknown location not far from the stream corridor marsh. Maybe a couple years’ accumulation of fallen leaves was needed to make a suitable foundation. Hard to say. In any case, on January 28 I found this:

Just enough of her peeks out to reveal that glare so typical of an incubating owl.

Just enough of her peeks out to reveal that glare so typical of an incubating owl.

That was as much as she showed. Sometimes it was less.

Those feather tufts are a good image to plant in your mind if you are going hunting for a great horned owl nest. Sometimes they are all you will see.

Those feather tufts are a good image to plant in your mind if you are going hunting for a great horned owl nest. Sometimes they are all you will see.

We had a blizzard a few days after I found the nest. She seemed well protected in that platform, so I hoped the storm didn’t drive her off the nest. That was what I believed happened in 2011 when the Groundhog Day Stormageddon blizzard brought in a couple feet of snow in short order. After around 40 days the owls abandoned the nest that year. This year I was counting the days. Last Friday she was on the nest. On Monday she was gone. I checked a couple times through this week, but sadly we appear to have a repeat of the 2011 failure. This is why great horned owls live so long, so as to have multiple opportunities to produce the young that will replace them in the population.

 

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