Readers’ wildlife photographs

July 18, 2014 • 4:40 am

 Note to readers: I’ll be travelling tomorrow, and emails will be accumulating en masse. I’d ask that people not send me photographs (or emails with interesting items for the site) until MONDAY, as I don’t want them to get buried.

We have owls today (or, as “Owl” in Winnie the Pooh would spell it [see next post], “Wols.” Reader Bruce Lyon has sent us a lovely series of photographs of the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). They were taken at the University of California at Santa Cruz (see below), which I consider the most beautiful college campus, at least as far as location, in the U.S. Visit it if you can. Bruce’s notes:

For the second year in a row, Great Horned Owls have successfully nested very close to my office on the campus at the University of California Santa Cruz. The campus is hidden away in a redwood forest and seems more like a camp than a campus, and it is a haven for predators. Mountain Lions, Bobcats, Golden Eagles and Great Horned Owls are all campus residents. Last year a pair of Great Horned Owls nested in a huge redwood tree beside one of the campus libraries and fledged three chicks. The female often roosted with one or more of the chicks right beside a busy path and a good chunk of the campus population got to enjoy watching them. The owls started up again this year—in the same redwood tree—but for some reason the nest attempt failed. I figured that was it for this year but then a colleague recently told me that that they had fledged two chicks, so they sneakily pulled off a successful renest. Here are some photos of the birds from this year and a couple of favorites from last year. Owls are so catlike—particularly the chicks—that perhaps they should be awarded honorary feline status on the WEIT website.

I believe I already did award owls status as Honorary Avian Cats™. (Click all photos to enlarge.)

Below: Adult female hunting at dusk. The female is a prettier bird than the male—nicer plumage coloration and pattern and a more attractive facial disk.

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Below: Another photos of the female:

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Below: One of chicks. Backlighting shows that the head is still downy while the back and wings have the non-baby feathers the bird will have for the next year.

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Another photo of the chick. It is interesting that the chicks have small ear tufts (‘horns’) even with their down feathers. Not all owls have ear tufts, which raises the question of the function of ear tufts, if any. In a short note, Michael Perrone (Adaptive Significance of Ear Tufts in Owls, Condor 83: 383-84, 1981) noted that ear tufts only occur on nocturnal species (many owls are fully or partially diurnal). He concluded that the tufts likely function in concealment rather than as a signal of species identity or as a way of mimicking a mammalian predator.

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Below: The female in a redwood reacting to some mobbing Steller’s Jays. Her plumage matches the redwood bark pretty nicely. Can a computer game of Spot the Owl be a logical follow-up to the Spot the Nightjar game?

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A couple of photos from last year, including the adult female perched in the nesting redwood tree and adult female roosting in the day with one of the chicks. The first photo below is one of my all time favorites—I love the patterns on the redwood bark and the female’s breast.

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23 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photographs

  1. Beautiful! Owls are my favorite. When I wake up really early, I can hear them hooting out in my woods.

  2. Lovely photos, especially the first two! I also see the 500mm lens was used and the bokeh is beautiful.

    Owls look so fluffy, you just want to squeeze them!

    There are two red-tailed hawks at my work. We saw the one grab a bird in mid air & another try to grab the window ledge right in front of us on the other side of the window! I have to bring my camera but I haven’t seen them the last few days. They like to perch on the tall cell tower near our building.

  3. Hmmm, great horned owls (GHOs) honorary felines? I understand that GHOs sometimes kill and eat house cats. Perhaps honorary d*gs would be more appropriate…

    1. I read somewhere (maybe a book by Amy Tan or Maxine Hong Kinston?) that in China, owls are called “eagle cats.” Does anyone else remember this?

  4. I love seeing these birds in their habitat. Luckily, my sister and brother-in-law live adjacent to a small nature preserve consisting of a few acres of pine scrub, saw palmettos, turkey oaks and the odd scrub hickory or two. The owls appear to find it very hospitable. If you stand in their back yard at dusk and really survey the tree line closely, you can often see those golden, yellow eyes staring back.

  5. If we’re going to play spot the owl, might I suggest it would be logical to start with a spotted owl?

  6. Terrific photos. Most beautiful owls. I hear owls hooting in the summer evenings, but don’t know the species. Perhaps Great Horned, as pointed out, they are nocturnal. I have had “hooting conversations” with them. Not a hard hoot to imitate, and once you get it down, they’ll get closer and closer. One even did a close fly by once, but it was too dark and I couldn’t make it out.
    I have family in Santa Cruz and one of my uncles is a UCSC alumnus. Having visited the campus a number of times, I would agree that it is the most beautiful campus in the US. Haven’t been to any in Hawaii though!

    1. GHO’s are the classic “hoot owl.” You can easily compare owl songs at this page:

      http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/browse_tax/55/

      (If you click through to the species pages, you can tell which species occur in your area.)

      Note that Barn Owls are in a separate family:

      http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/browse_tax/66/

      They are probably the easiest to imitate as well, though a local guide scares up hiding passerines by imitating the Eastern Screech Owl.

      1. Thanks for the links- bookmarked. YES! It is indeed a GHO. The guide must do a great imitation to scare up screech owl prey. That is a lot more intricate than the “hoot”.

  7. Superb shots of a wonderful animal, Bruce!

    They’re all excellent, but my favorite is the last one. Fledgling owls look like sponges with eyes. 😀

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