The Great Horned Owls of Sikome Lake

Everyone loves owls. Their big eyes, large size, and charismatic facial expressions can make even a non-birder sit up and take notice, and many birders have had their start with some incredible experience or other either chasing, discovering, or simply learning about them.

Here in Calgary, there has been at least one pair of Great Horned Owls roosting and nesting year-round in Fish Creek Provincial Park for well over a decade. They are quite possibly the best known Great Horned Owls in the city, and have fledged dozens of young over the years.

While there are some folks who get a bit too close for comfort, these veteran targets of the bird paparazzi are quite comfortable with their observers, and have a lot of experience at making the most of their natural camouflage, as well as staying out of sight when that too is called for.

This Great Horned Owl is doing his best impression of a branch.

This Great Horned Owl is doing his best impression of a branch, while keeping an eye on us pesky birders.

The best known area to view one pair of these charismatic characters is in the Sikome Lake area of the park. Located in the south-east corner of the park, it is a little out of the way for most people, and with the exception of the summer months, one of the less populated areas.

There are more than a few dead and broken trees in this area of the park, any number of which could be used as a nesting cavity for the Great Horned Owls, but there are also a few that they seem to have a preference for, returning to them every couple of years. They’ve usually picked out a spot by Valentine’s Day, filling the hollowed out trunk and settling in for a good two months of sitting on the nest.

The broken off trunk this pair occupied in 2012.

The broken off trunk this pair occupied in 2012. The female is on the nest in this photo.

After incubating the eggs for around 30 days, they begin to hatch. Once they’ve hatched, it’s another six weeks before the young are able to fly. During this time, the male keeps watch for other predators and hunts for prey for the mother and young. Last year, the presence of another pair in the park was only made known by a lone male, protecting a very well hidden nest site!

This male Great Horned Owl is on guard, and not really sleeping, I swear.

This male Great Horned Owl is on guard, and not really sleeping, I swear.

The protective male of the second pair of Great Horned Owls in Fish Creek Provincial Park, just north of Sikome Lake.

The protective male of the second pair of Great Horned Owls in Fish Creek Provincial Park, just north of Sikome Lake.

After their six week brooding period, the young will finally fledge. They’ll learn to hunt, fly, and protect themselves from predators in any way that they can, but they are still entirely under the responsibility of their parents for weeks or months to come. Some young Great Horned Owls have been known to continue begging their parents for food until as long as five months after they’ve fledged, and many don’t leave their parents until the adults begin their nesting preparations for the next breeding season!

Female Great Horned Owl feeding young in late May, 2012.

Female Great Horned Owl feeding young in late May, 2012.

Aren't baby Great Horned Owls just adorable?

Aren’t baby Great Horned Owls just adorable?

If looks could kill...

If looks could kill…

It seems like just about everywhere has their own local specialty species that draw people to birding, what’s yours? Leave a comment below and let us know about your regular crowd-drawing celebrity birds!

 

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11 Responses to The Great Horned Owls of Sikome Lake

  1. krissy says:

    just had a pair hooting up a storm near the ponds along rocky ridge road, unbelievably majestic , hopefully they return. September 1, 2013 6 am

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  4. Jenn Jilks says:

    They are amazing.
    We had a pair across the street last year. The paparazzi weren’t as annoying as the crows that harassed them!

  5. Nancy says:

    Wow!! Killer shots of the Great Horned Owls !!
    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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  7. Lovely photos! What a good enticement to visit Calgary one day!!

  8. Julie G. says:

    Excellent post filled with interesting information and wonderful photographs! We have a couple of Great Horned Owls on our property hooting loud and clear around dusk. They are terrific at camouflaging themselves, as I have such difficulty locating them. The photographs of the youngster are truly outstanding! It’s quite a fluff ball of cuteness.

  9. Kathleen says:

    Goodness! I’m not really sure what the celebrity bird of the region is here! Possibly a raptor – we have Bald Eagles along the highway that runs up the Hudson River that were a big deal about 8 or 9 years ago. At Alpine, we have a nesting pair of Peregrines, too. They’re popular and important enough that there’s a nest watch every year.

    Love the photos!

  10. Really fantastic shots, Dan. I have yet to see a Great Horned Owl this year, let alone get photographs!

  11. Susan Ellis says:

    Beautiful shots! And the chicks are very cute…