Hey, get out of our tree! — Ismael Rodriguez took this photo of some Great Horned Owl chicks in the Tehachapi Valley. Ismael, who owns Ismael Tree Pruning, was performing tree trimming on an Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica) when he discovered this Great Horned Owl's nest containing young chicks. The tree was then left alone until the owls fledge.
Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) are well-known for being one of the earliest nesters each spring (or late winter, actually). Great Horns don't do much nest building — since almost all owls are nocturnal, they don't typically make nests themselves. Trying to find and gather nesting material in the dark would probably carry additional risks for owls.
Instead, cavity nesting owls like Barn Owls use existing hollows, such as holes in trees or structures like bell towers, barns and abandoned houses, while platform nesting owls like Great Horns appropriate a nest built in previous years by ravens or hawks. The owl parents may line the nest with a little shredded bark, grass, some of their own down feathers or even some fur from prey, but their home improvements are pretty minimal.
The reason for Great Horned Owls nesting so early — the incubating female owl is likely to get snowed on at higher elevations — is likely to synchronize with the abundance of young prey animals.
Fledgling owls stand a high risk of starving before they become adept hunters, so if they have a head start over most animals, the owlets may find a bigger selection of newly-emerging young mice, rabbits, gophers, voles, etc. to consume.
The Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Paiute) word for owl is mühüütsi, pronounced muh-HUHT- si.
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: email@example.com.