In April of 2021 I located a Great Horned Owl, aka Tiger Owl, nesting in an abandon open mine. A couple of owlets had already hatched and were quite small. The area was forested with many oaks and pockets of wetland. The entire bottom of this open mine was filled with water.
I watched the Owl and her offspring over period of several weeks, visiting the site once or twice a week. During that time, I watched her feed a variety of prey to the youngsters. Most of what she brought them was squirrel, duck and even a red-fox pup.
Cool GHO facts courtesy of TheCornellLab:
- Great Horned Owls are fierce predators that can take large prey, including raptors such as Ospreys, Peregrine Falcons, Prairie Falcons, and other owls. They also eat much smaller items such as rodents and frogs.
- When clenched, a Great Horned Owl’s strong talons require a force of 28 pounds to open. The owls use this deadly grip to sever the spine of large prey.
- If you hear an agitated group of cawing American Crows, they may be mobbing a Great Horned Owl. Crows may gather from near and far and harass the owl for hours. The crows have good reason, because the Great Horned Owl is their most dangerous predator.
- Even though the female Great Horned Owl is larger than her mate, the male has a larger voice box and a deeper voice. Pairs often call together, with audible differences in pitch.
- Great Horned Owls are covered in extremely soft feathers that insulate them against the cold winter weather and help them fly very quietly in pursuit of prey. Their short, wide wings allow them to maneuver among the trees of the forest.
- Great Horned Owls have large eyes, pupils that open widely in the dark, and retinas containing many rod cells for excellent night vision. Their eyes don’t move in their sockets, but they can swivel their heads more than 180 degrees to look in any direction. They also have sensitive hearing, thanks in part to facial disc feathers that direct sound waves to their ears.
- The oldest Great Horned Owl on record was at least 28 years old when it was found in Ohio in 2005.
One evening in early May I photographed the owlets without any sign of the female bringing dinner. It was getting late and past “shooting” hours, but I decided to stay and see what happens at or after dark. As it turned out this was a warm evening and the mosquitoes decided to hatch and they were very hungry! As I was about to get run out if the woods by the intense mosquito attack when the female owl turned up and perched above the open mine. I kept the camera at hand even though I knew that with the poor light any photos would be less than perfect, I watched to see the female’s next move. At that very time I saw a couple of bats feeding on the mosquitoes over the mine. After a couple of minutes, the female GHO launched from its perch and in one pass the GHO banked about 20 feet in from of me and picked off a bat in mid-air. It landed on the opposite side of the mine to dispatch the bat. Once fully dispatched, the GHO flew down to the owlets and fed the bat to the young.
The speed, maneuverability and silent motion of this GHO that I observed was amazing! The Great Horned Owl is truly one of the most versatile and fierce predators in the sky.