Don’t mess with a Great Horned Owl named Bonnie

On a farm near Newton, Kansas, there is a tree. It has a Bald Eagle’s nest that, until a little over a week ago, belonged to a mated pair, Willie and Marie. It was ‘borrowed’ by a pair of Great Horned Owls, sometimes called Hoot Owls, that have been aptly named Bonnie and Clyde after the infamous bank robbers.

On 26 January 2021, the owls came to check out what appeared to be an unoccupied nest. This reminds me of when Daisy the Duck and her mate came to check on the WBSE nest in mid-December. Both have a look over the property to see if it is good for eggs and protection.

The owls decided that this would be the perfect spot to raise their family.

The next day the Bald Eagles come to check on their nest. Did they know that the owls had been there?

Something gave Willie and Marie concern. Normally they roost with a large group of eagles but that night, they chose to sleep on their nest.

In the middle of the night, a Great Horned Owl attacks them knocking one of the Bald Eagles from the nest. That was a game changer.

It wasn’t long til Bonnie, the GHOW, had laid her first egg right in the centre of the Bald Eagle’s nest.

In the image above, Bonnie, the owl, is on the nest. She has laid at least one egg. The norm is from one to five eggs. Great Horned Owls are absolutely fierce opponents as you can see from the confrontation that is taking place. In fact, Bonnie will defend her nest without hesitation. While most people will immediately think that owls are ‘cute’ and often ‘cuddly’ or ‘wise’ as in children’s story books, it is good to keep in mind that these are large raptors. They can easily kill, and do, all manner of falcons, Ospreys, as well as other owls. They are known to kill large prey by breaking their spines.

As with all other raptors, the female is the largest. Bonnie weighs, on average, 2 kg or 4.4 lbs. It is entirely possible that Bonnie’s mate, Clyde, weighs half what she does. Male GHOWs generally weight between 1 – 1.5 kilos or 2.2 – 3.3 lbs. Their wing span is about the same, measuring 1.2 metres or almost four feet. In comparison, a Bald Eagle has a wingspan of 1.8 – 2.3 metres or 5 ft 11 in – 7 ft 7 in. The average weight of an adult bald eagle is 6.35 kilograms or 14 lbs. In other words, the Bald Eagle is a lot larger than the Great Horned Owl. In the picture, it is hard to tell which of the raptors is, indeed, the largest. Had there been a fight between the two, both might have been injured. Thankfully, nothing has happened to date.

GHOWs have their young earlier than most other raptors. Generally, they lay their eggs and begin raising their young when the snow is on the ground. The Red Tail Hawks, on the other hand, do not normally lay their eggs until the third week in March, right about the beginning of spring. However, that does not seem to be the case with Bald Eagles. For example, the nest in Fort Myers Florida has eaglets that are twenty-six days old while E24 over at NE Florida, is nine days old. The Love Trio near Fulton, Illinois have laid their first egg on Valentine’s Day while other nests are ahead of them. It is unclear to me when this young mated Bald Eagle couple would have begun laying eggs on this nest. It seems to vary by geographical region and I presume normal climatic conditions. We know that this year in the US it is anything but normal now with the Polar Vortex taking over and causing severe winter storms.

I am left wondering about the Bald Eagles, Willie and Marie. What will they do for a nest? This GHOW has at least 21 more days til hatch. Those beautiful little owls aren’t going to immediately jump out of that nest and begin catching mice! No, they will branch (hop up to a close branch) when they are about six weeks old and will fledge taking short flights at seven weeks. That is, by my crude calculations, around the end of April or the beginning of May. Ah, those Bald Eagles aren’t going to wait that long to lay their eggs.

GHO chicks at 3 weeks of age. USFWS image.

These little fluffy owls are seriously cute with their big eyes. Not sure I would want to cuddle one thought unless it was a stuffy.

Adult GHOW and Juvenile, approximately 6 weeks old. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

In Canada, the GHOW is our second largest owl. The Snowy Owl is bigger.

There are GHOWs that live in a tree on a nearby golf course. On occasion, the owls come near to where I live. Indeed, last summer there was a huge commotion in the large trees in front of my house. Neighbours ran out to see what was going on. Everyone thought that the cute owl – it was a Great Horned – was being attacked by the crows. In fact, the owl had come to raid the crow’s nest. The crows had called in family and friends to help them move the owl along.

As I watched, the cheering section for the owl grew in size. Is it because owls are ‘wise’ or ‘cute and fluffy’ and Crows are black with sharp pointed beaks? I wondered about the impact of children’s literature and movies on the reactions of the onlookers to the avian behaviour. All manner of misconceptions have come to us through writers. One that really bothers me often is ‘fish do not feel pain’. I say that because many people get upset if, for example, White-Bellied Sea Eagles eat a Silver Gull because it has feathers but they don’t care at all if it brings a live fish onto the nest for the eaglets. What I have learned, most explicitly, is that birds are extremely intelligent. Their senses are more highly developed than humans and they share the same emotions that we have including mourning, joy, love, and intimidation.

In the course of six weeks, I have witnessed a Pacific Black Duck (our sweet little Daisy) make her nest in an unusual place, in a forest in the centre of a White-Bellied Sea Eagle nest. We will never know ‘why’ Daisy risked laying her eggs there and trying to incubate them to hatch but something motivated her to get her nest off the ground. Owls are often opportunistic. Their nests are not normally constructed year after year, twig after twig, like the eagles, for example. Did the owls lose their nest? Was their nest destroyed? Was the nest of the Bald Eagle just convenient for Bonnie and Clyde? This evening a Barred Owl attached Bonnie around 11:05pm. Bonnie was actually rolling her eggs when the owl came up from behind. You can see Bonnie trying to get her footing and the face of the attacker on the right. It is possible that owl has a nest close by or maybe it has its eyes on this prime piece of real estate. However, it would be a whole lot better if the smaller owl was ‘wise’ and didn’t try that move again. Bonnie just might be having a much bigger dinner than a mouse!

Barred Owl knocks Bonnie off balance while she turns her eggs.

That was not the drama that I was expecting. Sometimes these bird nests are better than anything being shown on the streaming stations on your telly! Happily no one was injured. Wonder what will happen tomorrow?

JUST A NOTE: IN THE WEE HOURS OF THE MORNING OF THE 18TH OF FEBRUARY WHEN IT WAS STILL DARK, AN OWL KNOCKED THE BALD EAGLE M15 OFF OF THE ATTIC WHERE IT WAS SLEEPING (IN A TREE ON THE PRITCHETT FARM) AND INTO THE NEST WITH HARRIET AND E17 AND E18. BONNIE IS A LARGE OWL SITTING ON THIS NEST IN KANSAS AND SHE IS A FORMIDABLE OPPONENT.

Thank you for joining me today. I am so glad that you stopped in. Stay safe and take care.

Thank you to Derek the Farmer for his streaming cam, the USFWS, and Wikimedia Commons.

Nova is Wandering

Today’s ‘brief’ focus is on Wandering Albatross. This is because the British Arctic Survey and the Albatross Task Force have just posted Nova’s tracking. Yes, she is being monitored by a satellite transmitter, just like Solly. Today, Nova is feeding near the Patagonian Shelf off the coast of Argentina.

Nova right before she fledged.

The Wandering Albatross is also known as the Snowy Albatross and it has the largest with a wingspan of 3.4 metres or 11.15 feet. They weigh between 8 and 12 kilograms or from 17.6 lbs to 26.45 lbs. In other words, they are enormous compared to many of the other seabirds. They live and breed on remote islands such as South Georgia or smaller islands in the Southern Ocean. The word ‘live’ is misleading. The albatross spend all their time on the ocean except during breeding season, laying and incubating eggs, and raising the chick. Like all Albatross the parents take turns feeding the little one. And, like the Northern Royal Albatross, most will take a year off between breeding so that they can rebuild their bodies. They will spend that time foraging in the Southern Oceans. Like the Kakapo in my last posting, Albatross can live for a very long time. Some are older than sixty years while many never reach their first birthday.

The vast majority of the deaths are entirely caused by humans except for the fur seals who eat the vegetation on the islands. The Wandering Albatross spend the majority of their life on the high seas foraging for food, mostly squid but some fish. As well, they are carried great distances by the high winds. Because of this they have the potential to come into contact with many different legal and illegal fishing trawlers. These beautiful seabirds get caught in the long fishing lines or get trapped in gill nets and are killed. But, they don’t have to be. There are some easy solutions. These include the use of streamers, brightly coloured metallic streamers like people use to play with their cats, only a much larger size will scare the birds away. An even easier solution is to set the fishing lines at night. The third is to weigh down the lines so that they sink very quickly. Normally, they are so long and stay near the surface with their bait that the Wandering Albatross see the fish and want to eat it. The Seabird Task Force is working with fleets of boats from Spain to use demersal longlines. These catch fish at the bottom of the ocean and have been proven to be effective against bycatch.

The following graphic made by the Albatross Task force shows you how long lines and gillnets attract the seabirds.

Nova’s transmitter will, like Solly’s, let the researchers know where she is foraging for squid and fish. And because there are satellite maps of the locations of legal fishing trawlers, many of the Albatross with transmitters have helped to locate illegal fishing fleets. I do not condone industrial fishing and definitely not illegal boats that churn out fish from the ocean on a 24/7 basis but you would think that if they were illegally fishing they would want to have all of the safe systems in place so as not to have the Albatross with the transmitters be attracted to their boats.

Diagram designed by the Albatross Task Force showing the Patagonian Shelf and Nova’s locations along it.

What can you do to help? If you are concerned about the fish you eat, you can go to seafoodwatch.org for lists of sustainably caught fish. You can also learn to read the labels. Look for the red and blue label ‘Friends of the Sea’ or the blue and white label ‘Marine Stewardship Council’. Friends of the Sea has lots of information on its Website about what they are doing to make the information about the fish you eat more transparent. Have a look!

Check out the website of the Marine Stewardship Council for lots more information.

Below is a link to certified products:

https://friendofthesea.org/certified-products-and-services/

There are phone apps such as Seafood Watch which help in addition to several restaurant watch dogs. One of those is Fish2Fork.com

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Some quick updates:

Arthur and Big Red were both at the nest on the grounds of Cornell University in Ithaca chipping away at the snow and ice that formed overnight. For the next month they will be restoring the nest of the Js and getting it ready for the Ks. Oh, this is such a sweet couple. They work so well together.

Big Red checking out nest cup.
Arthur is helping with nestorations.

Bonnie, the Great Horned Owl, the owl that everyone loves, still has occupancy rights. The Bald Eagles have, so far, not attempted to kick her out of their nest. She sure has had it a lot easier than Daisy the Duck. In part that is thanks to the cold. There is currently no snow falling and the sun is out. The temperature has risen to 8 degrees F which is a lot warmer than the -7 F temperatures yesterday. Let’s hope that her mate is able to scare her up a nice fat mouse for dinner today. He had trouble finding prey yesterday.

Bonnie is happy the sun is shining and it is warmer.

The torrential rains that fell on the NEFL Eagle nest near St Augustine last night are gone. The sun is out and Gabby has been busy venting the nest while keeping the little one close to her in the shade. Samson did a terrific job bringing in all the fish yesterday ahead of that storm. He is now my official weatherman for this nest!

So hot that E24 is staying in the shade of mom.

When I first checked the twins over at the SWFL nest in Fort Myers, I couldn’t tell where one began and the other ended. They are very much looking like their dinosaur ancestors if they get their bodies positioned just right.

Looks like a pile of dinosaurs!

Ah, it is always nice when E17 is full and passed out so that E18 can get a private fish feeding! All is well on the SWFL nest. Just hot like it is for Gabby and Samson over at St Augustine.

E18 getting a private feeding.

So far, that E18 has been eating solid for twenty minutes! The adult tried to stop and clean its beak and E18 indicated ‘nope, I am still hungry’. The image looks the same but it isn’t. E18 is simply not moving. You can see that 17 has shifted its wing a bit. The little one wants his private fish dinner while 17 is passed out in a food coma. So smart. These little underdogs that get picked on often turn out to be highly creative. After all, it is all about surviving.

E18 is STILL eating.

And no. That parent is not going to be able to eat that fish or leave because now E17, the oldest, is awake and wants some more too! Fresh fish must taste a whole lot better than week old dry catfish!

It is also a time when they are growing and changing so much that their consumption of food is increasing steadily. But, I just love it. There is something about seeing a parent have food in the nest and filling the babies up that just makes life so much more serene.

In the image below, the oldest one, the one that picks on the little one, is now up getting some more fish and the little one, E18 is acting like it is the caboose. But wait! That older one is full quick and now the little one is back up at the feet of the parent. E18 has learned if it pecks at the feet of the parent it gets fed. Wonder if he will get another twenty minute feeding?

E17 decides it wants some fish.

E18 kept tapping on the parents talons and the parent is now feeding him again. I think this little one is going to stay there and eat every last flake of that fish even if its crop almost bursts!

E18 is back eating…again.

The wind is really blowing over in Big Bear California but the sun is shining and there isn’t any snow. Jackie and Shadow are really happy about that. It is so nice to see the weather improving. Jackie and Shadow lost their first clutch of three eggs and Jackie is incubating the second clutch of two eggs. I hope everything goes well for this great couple.

Jackie incubating her two eggs.

And, oh, my goodness. We can see the nest at Duke Farms. For more than two weeks, this poor eagle has been snowed in. How amazing. There is another system moving through on Wednesday. Let us hope that it bypasses New Jersey and gives this mom a break. She is incubating three eggs – three!

Snow is off Duke Farms Eagle nest.

I wanted some news of the Trio since Starr laid her first egg on Valentine’s Day for the Valors. The only person going in and out is this amazing photographer Dennis Brecht. The image below was taken by him and I hope that it is OK to use it since it was posted on the Trios FB page.

I would love to know what the conversation is between the three of them. Starr, the female, is the one standing up with her wings spread. Valor II is to the left and Valor I has his beak open. From the recent history of this nest, I understand that Valor I does not like sharing incubation duties. He wants to do it all by himself. But so do Starr and Valor II. Starr might even want to get on there to lay another egg! Too funny. Remember this is the guy I called the ‘Dead Beat Dad’. Look at him now. Wow.

Photo of the trio taken by Dennis Brecht.

Thanks for checking in today. Everyone appears to be doing fine. Temperatures appear to be warming up in places and we hope that they stay that way. These birds are so intelligent and beautiful. But they need to eat and those little critters hunker down in the cold! But I wish you could see the smile on my face. That little E18 melts my heart. When he was brought back from the clinic and crawled over to Harriet, his mom, well, it was priceless. I sleep a lot easier when I know that he is full to the brim!

Stay safe everyone! See you tomorrow.

Thank you to the Albatross Task Force for the images of Nova. Thank you to the streaming cams at NEFL, SWFL, Big Bear, Duke Farms, Pritchett Real Estate and Farms, Farmer Derek’s and Cornell RTH. Thank you so much to Dennis Brecht for getting out in the storm and posting the picture of the Trio on FB.

Kakapo and more

Everyone is talking about the Kakapo today because two of the 208 died. These events are always full of sadness.

Have you heard of Kakapo?

They live in New Zealand and they are parrots that cannot fly. Wings are only for balance and support. Some people think they look like an owl. In fact, they are nocturnal and only move around at night. Their plumage is a beautiful moss green with some yellow and black. Their feathers are very soft because they do not need them for flight. Their bill, legs, and feet are grey. Using those grey feet they run all over the ground and climb trees. They blend in perfectly to the forests of the small islands where they now live. These islands are designated nature reserves and only authorized personnel can go on them.

Before humans arrived on the shores of new Zealand, the forests were full of these amazing creatures. Many of the early settlers kept them as pets saying that they were as friendly as dogs. They are still friendly towards humans today. In the 1990s, only fifty existed. The predators of the adults were cats and stoats while rats were known to eat the eggs and the chicks. The New Zealand Department of Conservation undertook an amazing intervention in order to try and save the Kakapo. They literally gathered up the fifty that were alive and moved them to islands where there were no predators. In June there were 210. Sadly, today there are now 206. Every Kakapo has a radio transmitter whose battery needs to be changed at least once a year. They are carefully monitored and health checks are undertaken on a regular basis. Birds may receive supplemental feeds and eggs and chicks can be rescued and raised by hand. Because there are so few, the genetic diversity is extremely low and there is also a very low fertility rate. The Kakapo are managed on three islands and there is now managed mating using artificial insemination to help manage genetic loss. They are currently sequencing the genomes of all living kakapo to aid in their conservation. The females start breeding around five years but the males are not able to fertilize the eggs until they are about ten years old. They are said to only breed when the fruit of the Rimu trees bloom which is every 2-4 years. The males get off pretty easy. The females have to incubate the 1-4 eggs, feed themselves and their chicks, and also protect their nest and young. That is the reason that so many fell victim to cats and stoats in the past. They are strict vegetarians. Kakapo generally live to be ninety years old if they do not come to harm by predators or viruses.

They are so very cute. They love to hide from the Rangers when they come to change their transmitters but they also love their almond treats after!

If you would like to learn more about the Kakapo, this is a seven minute video that is quite good:

And if you are a teacher or you know someone who is and who might like to show their students this amazing non-flying parrot – that is so utterly sweet – head over to this site sponsored by the NZ Government:

https://www.doc.govt.nz/get-involved/conservation-education/resources/kakapo-recovery/

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It’s time for updates:

That Great Horned Owl on the Bald Eagle nest near Kansas City is still there. The Bald Eagles have not evicted her. Poor thing. That snow is really packed around her. The flakes stopped coming down and while it has warmed up, it is still a frigid -4 F. Our owl (I was tempted to say little but they really are not little) is trying to sleep and keep those eggs warm. Her mate, Clyde (gosh that was my dad’s name- who would name their little son Clyde???????) is very good at bringing her prey during the night. Last mouse deposit was right before dawn broke this morning.

Bonnie took a break – less than two minutes off those eggs. Gosh she was fast! That got me to wondering how quickly that -5 temperature would impact those eggs.

It doesn’t look like any of the snow fell in over the eggs. I wondered if the warmth of Bonnie’s body would have made a bit of a crust??? Just a silly thought but, maybe.

The Bald Eagle sitting on the nest in Hillsborough, New Jersey at Duke Farms is getting some relief. The snow has stopped falling and is actually melting there. We can finally see the nest. Let’s hope she catches a break and doesn’t get hit by the system moving through on Wednesday. This poor mother has had snow for twice as long as anyone else with eggs underneath them. She should get some kind of endurance prize!

And there is some really good news on the nest of Gaby and Samson over at NEFL. Little E24 was having problems with its right eye. This morning it was completely closed again but later in the day it opened up. I could not see any discharge. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that it just got a poke from some of that nest material. And give a hand to Samson who brought in five big fish. I wonder if he is expecting bad weather to set in?

Oh, just look. There is the little one’s tiny little foot close by its mom. How precious.

Samson can be my weatherman any day. He brought in such a big pile of fish earlier. Now you can hardly make out his silhouette as the rain pelts down at the nest near St. Augustine, Florida. There are also thunderstorms in the area but no tornadoes. Smart dad. That little one will be under its mother staying dry while she continues to incubate an egg that will never hatch.

It has been a beautiful day out at Big Bear. That snow and chilly winds are gone! How nice for Jackie and Shadow.

I am also very happy to report that there was so much food on the SWFL Eagle nest of Harriet and M15 that the bopping of 17 towards 18 was next to nothing today. In fact, I hope they are growing out of that behaviour. There is lots and lots of food. Indeed, hold on. Harriet even brought in some road kill today in the form of a grey tabby cat. So again, if you ever find yourself near someone who is saying eagles only eat fish, well they sure don’t on Harriet and M15’s nest. They are great opportunistic eagles. At the same time it is extremely worrying when the hawks, falcons and eagles land on the streets and highways to get the carrion and get hit themselves. It is also, of course, tragic when someone’s pet gets hit by a car.

And last, let’s check up on Solly to see what she is up to. To date Solly has re-written a lot of aspects of Osprey behaviour in Australia. That is fabulous news and supports putting satellite transmitters on birds for additional research and learning. Of course, the streaming cameras that I watch, like you, are invaluable as are the BOGs (Birders on the Ground).

Solly is 149 days old and she is still enjoying Eba Anchorage and flying over to Kiffin Island to find her dinner. Look at that seabird go!

And speaking of Ospreys, one of the Scottish Kieldner Ospreys Blue Y6, White EB’s youngest daughter, that hatched in 2016 was seen at Tanji Marsh Bird Reserve in The Gambia by bird guide, Fansu Bojang. This is just excellent news. You might recall that Avian Flu went through the Pelican population in Senegal and there was some worry for the UK Ospreys. This is just wonderful news! Last year was Blue Y6’s first year to raise chicks. She had two with her mate at a nest in Perthshire. Let’s hope she does it again this year.

There is lots of good news all around in the bird world. Even the Kakapo Recovery said that they are grateful for the growth in the numbers and with that also comes higher numbers of those dying.

The Ospreys will be making their way back to their nests across the UK and Europe soon. We wish them all safe travels. The hawks and falcons will be finding twigs for their nests and in a few weeks we will begin to welcome another group of baby eagles.

I am keeping a particularly close eye on that nest of Big Red and Arthur.

Stay safe and stay warm! Thank you for joining me today. See you tomorrow!

Thank you to the Kakapo Recovery, the AEF for the streaming cams at Big Bear and NEFL, the SWFL streaming cam and the D. Pritchett family, Derek the Farmer’s streaming cam, Port Lincoln Osprey for the tracking information on Solly, Duke Farms streaming cam, and Kielder Ospreys.