Early Sunday morning, April 14th, the Nature Center receives a phone call, “young Great Horned Owl on the ground.” Naturalists respond. The nest is located 100+ feet high in a Loblolly Pine. At least one parent is on the watch. After a quick examination, Naturalists determine the owlet is not injured, but simply too young to fly. Carefully picking him up, avoiding the sharp talons and beak, they place him on the curving branches of a large live oak. Naturalists know that avian parents are extremely protective and will continue to care for their young even out of the nest. The goal is to keep the nestlings off the ground in order to avoid mammalian predators such as bobcats, foxes and coyotes.
Over the next several days the pattern is repeated. Naturalists return and place the owlet in the safety of the trees. Consulting with experts at the Center for Birds of Prey, the importance of keeping the bird in the wild is reinforced, knowing that being raised by its parents gives every animal the best chance of long-term survival. Each time they return, Naturalists scan for the adults to insure that the owlet continues to be fed and cared for. Although the parents are high in the trees, they can often be located by listening for the crows who are almost continuously harassing them. Wanting to minimize their presence, Naturalists do not spend much time observing the adults, just a few quick photos and they are on their way.
Then another phone call, a Kiawah property owner has found the young owlet dead, attacked by a large murder of crows. The sadness is overwhelming but Naturalists know that this is part of nature. For the crows, harassment of the Great Horned is warranted given that the Great Horned is one of the most important predators of adult crows and their nestlings.
But the story does not end with all sad news. Several days later, while scanning through photos taken on site, one or two blurry photos capturing an individual far up in the pines caught the attention of our Naturalists….a second owlet! It is typical for the mother owl to lay her eggs several days apart. Consequently, nest mates may be at very different stages of development and this individual was obviously much further along. Although the second owlet still has a long and dangerous life ahead, at least for this breeding season, Naturalists can call this mother successful.