Monday, April 02, 2018

Farm Bulletin: The Owls of Ayers Creek Farm

Contributor Anthony Boutard has written often over the years about the owls that inhabit the land that he and Carol tend in the Wapato Valley just west of Portland. Valued residents, these nocturnal predators serve to exercise some population control over the various mice, voles and other creatures that love the crops from this acreage as much as its human fans.

Twenty years ago, when we settled on the farm, there was a great horned owl that we would flush from time to time. As we got to know the place, we would watch the young on an old Douglas fir snag. Owls do not build a nest, but find a suitable location where they can lay an egg. As that snag disintegrated, the owl moved to an old red-tailed hawk nest high in a living fir. That nest was occupied for several years until a wind storm knocked the top out of another fir, and they took over that redoubt. I cannot say for certain that the pair of owls we see today are the same as those we saw 20 years ago, but they can lead long lives if they can find a secure place to live. Spooky the Owl at the Boston Museum of Science lived to 38, allowing me to bring Caroline to see the same bird I had marveled at when I was a child.

Fortuitously, in her new nest location we could observe her from our bedroom. As the owls prepare to raise a clutch they become vocally amorous, indicating that the female is going to settle on the nest. This year, she started brooding in the early morning hours of the 4th of February. The laying of the second egg was unobserved, but probably happened about ten days later. The female will sit on the nest continuously for nearly two months keeping the eggs, and later the chicks, warm. The male will provide her food during her brooding.

Last year, the owls raised a brood, but the chicks never made it to fledging. I am not sure what happened, but it is a wonder any owlet survives as they leap from the nest while unable to fly. If they land to close to the ground or are too exposed, they are a fine morsel for a variety of predators and scavengers. A few years ago, the owls raised three chicks, but the third was developmentally challenged. It was never able to fly properly but lived well into the following spring. I suspect it met its demise at the talons of a migrating Coopers hawk or goshawk.

I have been watching to see when the chicks would show themselves. That happened on Thursday. The chicks were just big enough and the weather mild enough, that the owl could take a much needed stretch atop the snag. For a couple more weeks, that is as far as she will venture from the chicks. Today, I had a moment to set up the camera. Here is a photo of the two chicks and the female.

Read Anthony's posts, accompanied by his wonderful photographs, about previous broods of the farm's great horned owls.

Photo by Anthony Boutard.


meddie said...

I just showed this to Nadir who loved them. OMG, he said, aren't they cute? And to think we were right there!

Kathleen Bauer said...

They are! If you haven't had a chance to check out some of the other owl posts, Anthony's photos are pretty spectacular. (Click on any of the photos and a larger version will pop up.) Thanks, and enjoy!