I found this feather underneath our old birch tree about a month ago, and wasn’t sure at first what it was. We have all kinds of big raptors that cruise our property, including Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, and the smaller Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned hawks. We also have a nesting pair of Great Horned Owls that live a few hundred feet from our house that we hear hooting every night. With the barring on the feather, I could rule out the Bald Eagles, but don’t know enough about feathers to have even made a semi-educated guess as to which bird it came from.
One of my friends is a birder, and she in turn knew an expert in raptor identification. He knew what it was immediately, and explained that the key to figuring out what bird this came from was the shape of the feather, in particular the rounded tip and the soft downy center. It’s a Great Horned Owl feather.
I’ve found several more feathers like this since then in the yard, concentrated under two different trees. So now I know where this winged tiger is roosting at night when he (she?) serenades us with soft hooting calls.
The owls are amazing birds, huge, with a wingspan that can reach sixty inches. Their flight is utterly silent, making it more than a trifle scary when they seem to appear out of nowhere, swooshing overhead at night, at times less than twenty feet above our heads.
Sometimes called the “tiger of the night,” a Great Horned Owl is a formidable predator. It enjoys rabbits, but also hunts many other mammals, birds and reptiles–even skunks. We know when ‘our’ owls have enjoyed a feast of skunk by the pungent odor that wafts downwind from them. Getting sprayed by a skunk doesn’t seem to bother them at all.
The owls originally nested in an old silver maple tree, and we had the rare gift of watching them raise three owlets. They lost that nest when the branch holding it tore off during a particularly severe thunderstorm. Amazingly, all three owlets survived, clinging to the tree. Within a day the adults coaxed the three owlets to take their first flights, accompanying them in short hops and guarding them throughout until the owlets reached the safety of some nearby pine trees. The adults rebuilt their nest in the pine trees, so we haven’t been able to watch the nest as the foliage on the pines is too thick. However, I saw them building a new nest this last week, once again in a nearby silver maple tree. I’m hoping come January we’ll be treated to watching fuzzy owlets peer out at the world from their nest!