Great Horned Owls

Three young Great Horned Owls are just about ready to leave their tree in Bear Valley Springs.

Toshimi Kristof took this photo in Bear Valley Springs of three young Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) that were just getting ready to fledge and leave the tree where they were raised.

Great Horned Owls are the earliest birds to nest in the Tehachapi Mountains, often as early as February, so they are not strangers to stormy weather. Female Great Horned Owls sometimes get snow on their backs as they sit on their nest, shielding their eggs or babies from a storm.

This strategy of early nesting means that the fledgling owls are beginning to hunt for prey at a time when there is typically an abundance of young rabbits, mice, voles, gophers and other animals. Starvation is one of the biggest threats to large raptors like Great Horned Owls — with their size and ferocity, they don't have much to fear from other predators, but getting enough to eat is a constant challenge.

Mortality for all birds spikes in the first weeks after they leave the relative safety of their nest. For smaller birds the biggest danger is falling prey to some kind of predator, and for larger birds like Great Horns, the chief threats are collisions when flying and starvation.

Most animals, large and small, won't make it to their first birthday, so life is full of challenges for them and the odds are against their survival. Those that do make it become part of the tapestry of life in the Tehachapi Mountains. And will hopefully be nesting themselves next year.

NATURAL SIGHTINGS is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, you may submit it to the Tehachapi News for possible publication. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to: editorial@tehachapinews.com.