Post by Skeeter & Marolyn Lasuzzo
Photography by Skeeter Lasuzzo
The Great Horned Owl is more elusive than both the Barred and Great Gray Owl. The Great Horned usually hunts at night and is usually only visible after sunset. You will understand my surprise when I called a Great Horned Owl to a tree just a few minutes before sunset and he called back to me.
Marolyn and I had gone to an area of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge where last year a pair of Great Horned Owls had raised two owlets in a nest near the road. If you remember from my blog last year, one of these adults was killed by a car. We first pulled off the road behind an oil lease installation across the road from the old nest site and decided to try my imitation of a Great Horned Owl. After my first attempt, I heard an owl answer me. Within seconds the owl flew to a nearby tree to check me out and exchange hoots with me. Notice the white feathers on the neck of the Great Horned owl. These feather are only visible when the owl is hooting. I guess my imitation is better than I thought. We hooted back and forth a few times as the owl moved from one tree to another before he figured out I was not a threat and flew back into the woods.
We then looked for the old nest site. We were surprised to see a second Great Horned Owl checking out the old nest. The nest had been mostly destroyed by winter storms. After determining the nest was unusable, the owl flew off in the direction of its mate. It was good to see that the surviving owl from last year had found another mate and was back in the same area looking for a nest site. Great Horned Owls do not build their own nest. They either use an old hawk nest, find a usable cavity in a tree or steal a nest from a hawk.
The Great Horned Owl is the bad boy of the owl world. They are the only animal that will regularly feed on skunks. They are known to kill and eat other owls and birds of prey, like hawks, and will also attack Osprey nestlings. While rabbits are its preferred prey, the Great Horned Owl will kill squirrels, raccoons, armadillos, porcupines, Great Blue Herons, ducks, swans, and even baby alligators. They have also been know to attack small domestic dogs and cats. They are strong enough to carry off prey that is 2 to 3 times their size.
We have since "talked" to this Great Horned Owl on a couple of occasions. Great Horned Owls live a solitary life except during mating season and raising their young. Even after the adults separate, they usually stay within a one square mile home area and live around 13 years in the wild.
It is always a pleasure to see and photograph these magnificent owls - the bad boys of the owl world.