|Great horned owl - click photo for larger view|
Today was a Top 10 Birding Moment -- seeing a great horned owl fly to her nest at Lake Byllesby, within range of our binoculars and spotting scope, and settle in, facing toward us. We watched her for about 20 minutes. She was panting quite visibly; we could see not only her open beak (visible above) but the movement of her throat. I tried to take video through the spotting scope to capture the panting, but I didn't get any usable results.
Great horned owls are year-round residents throughout almost all of North America. They are among the earliest nesters in our region, beginning in late January and February. They like to reuse the discarded nests of other large raptors, which certainly saves time and work. The prominent "ear tufts" that give the bird its name are actually neither ears nor horns.
Several crows were loudly harassing the owl, which helped draw our attention to her. Great horned owls are fierce predators and certainly eat crows, as well as other birds and mammals.
This was the first owl I've had a really good look at. (I wrote about my earlier owl encounters this year in January and February.) It was very exciting to have the luxury of watching this bird on her nest.
I've called this owl "her," but both the male and the female incubate the eggs, according to National Geographic, so this could have been a male.