Owl Family With Triplets Grows Up!

-- a nest in the fork of a Eucalyptus


    This page shows a mama great horned owl and her three chicks -- triplets!  Brooding (sitting on the chicks after they hatch) took place for around 2 weeks. From my observations, I would say that the eggs are hatched consecutively over several days, because the chicks are definitely different sizes and at different stages of development. I saw my first chick on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th). I only became aware of a third chick on March 28th. Six weeks from when brooding is over, the chicks will move to nearby branches and a week or so later, at about 9-10 weeks, they will fly. These photos are in chronological order, so the chicks are growing and getting older as you move down the page. Photos were taken every day through fledging, sometimes ten a day -- to show the owlets seamlessly growing up. And yes, there are way too many photos -- this site is for those who are really into the owlets!

    I’ve seen this mom preening her chicks, and they in turn have nuzzled her head!  And I’ve seen her look at them adoringly! By the end of March the chicks were seen yawning, scratching and preening themselves.  And they were pulling at and eating their own food from in the nest. They spend time observing the activity below their tree. Papa owl is around, keeping an eye on his family from the distance. He brings prey to the growing family by dropping it in the nest -- this was observed in the evening of 3/27 and 3/31. The owl carries its prey both in its beak and with its talons. The mama owl leaves the nest at twilight to hunt and maybe stretch her wings.

    In April I’ve observed the owlets stretching their wings, preening each other and pooping out over the side of the nest. There was lots of wing-stretching and flapping the evening of 4/7 -- maybe too much for Mom who spent the next day stretching her own wings in a tree 50 feet away instead of in the nest; babies and Mom kept a close eye on each other. The owlets explore the world visually by bobbing their heads from side to side -- it looks like a dance. Owl eyes are as large as human eyes, but unlike human eyes, are fixed in their sockets.  Eating is an active time, but so far, I’ve only seen this when the light is too dim for photos: the chicks tear at the food, pulling it apart and then gulp it down -- sometimes taking many gulps to get it down.  

    A record heat wave of 94º during April 19-21 induced the chicks to keep cool by actually panting! You could see their quick breathing in their necks, beaks held open and up. Different observers have commented that until recently, these chicks have not looked like birds -- they looked more like penguins, raccoons, koala bears, lambs, gargoyles and the adult from afar looks like a cat! By mid-April they are finally looking like real owls.

    By April 22nd there was a change. I wondered why I wasn’t getting any photos -- the activity in the nest was just about nil. Well, at 5:00 PM I found that ONE had FLEDGED (left the nest) -- I found him across the park in a tree -- the sun behind him creating a fantastic halo of light through his feathers. He probably fledged the previous night, which accounts for the lower activity in the nest. He will not return to the nest. By 8:00 PM of the same day, when it was dark, the other two chicks had “branched” -- they were still in their tree, but out of the nest on nearby branches, summoning their courage to fly. However, these two were back in the nest the next morning for a few more days of growth (and photos!). I saw one actually playing with a stick in the nest on April 24th -- probably to combat the boredom of waiting!

    By April 26th there is only ONE owlet left in the nest, so the second one must have fledged during the night of the 25th. I saw the lone nestling preening himself -- pulling hard on his feathers -- maybe trying to make them grow?  The parents and two fledged chicks were on the other side of the park -- I was able to photograph them with the help of Martin, the “owl guy” who has been keeping track of these owls for eleven years. In the afternoon I saw what I thought was a repeated yawn by the lone and lonely owlet in the nest -- but no -- up came a pellet! Waiting must be hard for this last little owlet -- he’s been up there alone for four days now, always in the the same crook of the tree that faces the direction where the rest of the family now hangs out. His latest entertainment has been playing with an owl feather and biting on a branch in front of the nest. Mom, of course, feeds him in the evenings.

    April 30th -- our lone last owlet is no longer in the nest-tree!  This last owl-tot must have fledged, finally, during the night -- joining the rest of the family across the park.  And so, this will be the end of this photo project, at least for now.

    The parents will spend the next few months teaching the owlets to hunt -- and will oblige the begging until the chicks are about 5 months old. And the owlets will practice their flying which is extremely awkward and jerky to begin with -- much like a human baby learning to walk. They will remain as a family until December at which time the offspring must leave to seek their fortunes elsewhere, and the parents will prepare for a new family.  Last update 5/14/09.