Sunday, April 29, 2012

Farm Bulletin: Leaving the Nest

Many farmers are keen observers of the life of their land, but few are as clear-sighted as contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm, who has taken on the stewardship of his land like the scientist that he is. This includes the insects, animals, birds and humans that it supports. Recently his eye has been focused on a great horned owl that built a nest within view of his camera lens.

Last night, the two owlets were in the nest, and when I woke up this morning it was empty. It has been a little over two and a half months since the hen laid the eggs, and now they are fledglings moving about the fir boughs. At this point, they are more hoppers than fliers, and sometimes the wings seem to hinder more than help. They are furtive and hard to see tucked into the tree canopies.

The empty nest.

One hopped out in plain view for a moment (top photo). The facial disk is well developed, and the darker, immature plumage is replacing the silvery down they had as nestlings. They are also getting their ear tufts, or horns. In a couple of weeks they will start flying, and they will roost together, if all goes well. Even with a fiercely protective mother, this is a hazardous moment for the birds. They need more food as they grow, so the mother is in hunt mode all day.

I am not sure, but I think her mate may roost and hunt in another place. This grove of trees is small, and they share it with a pair of nesting red-tailed hawks.

Photos by Anthony Boutard. Track the progress of this owl family with Who's Minding the Frogs and the Great Horned Owl Follow-Up.

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