Readers’ wildlife photos and videos

Reader Bruce Lyon, you may recall, is a professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California at Santa Cruz. He provides not just photos but illustrated scientific tales, and here’s a good one about owls, which includes two of his videos. Bruce’s comments are indented.

Here are some images of Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) that your readers might enjoy, given that owls are honorary cats on WEIT.  This pair of owls nests in a park in Santa Cruz California. They normally use a eucalyptus grove away from areas that are heavily visited by people. However, early this year they moved to a very heavily used area, roosting right beside a deck area that is used for viewing monarch butterflies. This deck is often visited by hundreds of people each day, including large and noisy groups of school kids, and the owls seemed completely indifferent to all of this.

My guess is that the owls moved to this location because they had their eyes on a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) nest—owls do not build their own nests but rely on cavies or old nests from other birds like hawks and ravens. The owls visited the nest several times and I thought they were going to use it but the crows had other ideas. Crows eventually discovered the owls and began to mob the pair intensively in the evening and the owls gave up on using this area and went back to their traditional area. They nested there and recently fledged two chicks.

Before the crows came on the scene, the owls were very fun to watch. They would come off their roost while it was still light and then perch, hoot and greet each other a mere 20 feet from the viewing platform, often at eye level. I have not seen such cooperative and tame great horned owls before.

Below. Last November the students in my ornithology class and I watched red-shouldered hawks refurbishing their nest, so we knew the original owners of the nest the owls coveted. Here a hawk leaves after bringing in some branches. November seemed like an odd time of the year to be working on the nest.

Below: When the owls came off their roost site they often went to the same large branch, sometimes hiding in the ivy but sometimes staying out in the open. The male is on the left, the female on the right.
Below: This time they stayed out in the open. As with many raptors, the female (on the left) is larger than the male, but the male is a bit more colorful.

Below. The birds rarely came off the roost at the same time. Often when the second bird came off the roost it would join the other bird, and they would have a little greeting ceremony, as shown in the video below.

Below: Video of the female preening. Note how she cleans her talons—one wants to make sure that the weapons are maximally lethal! The audio is not great because the microphone (Rode) that I use for video does not work well (microphone adds a humming noise). Any suggestions from readers on a good microphone to use with a DSLR camera would be welcome.

Below: the male perches at eye level just a few feet off the ground.

Below: Hooting male—when he hooted, his white throat puffed out.

Below: More hooting:

Below: The male. As Monty Python said in their famous dead parrot skithe’s a lovely bird, lovely plumage.
Below: Male perched on top of a snag, hooting away!

22 Comments

  1. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted June 25, 2018 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Beautiful pictures of lovely birds! The color tones in the 3rd one in particular is breathtaking when embiggened. Lovely.

    • Diane G
      Posted June 25, 2018 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      And the poses and composition of that photo are also beautiful! Wouldn’t mind having a large framed print of that over my living room couch! 🙂

      What a thrill to be able to observe them so closely! Shame the crows intruded, but the story and footage you got, Bruce, are just wonderful. Hmmm–there are Great Horned Owls around here…wonder how hard it would be to build a convincing-looking hawk nest…

      Out here (Michigan), of course, they’re famous for nesting in the middle of winter; looks like California Great Horns have a much easier go of it. Are there any regional phenotypic differences between NE vs. SW populations as a result of this?

      • yazikus
        Posted June 25, 2018 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        Short of getting a print of one of these, there is a wonderful watercolor artist named Hiroko Cannon who specializes in birds and does some magnificent owl pieces. She’s my go-to wedding present artist.

        • Diane G
          Posted June 25, 2018 at 11:27 am | Permalink

          Thank you. And also–what a great idea for a wedding present!

          • yazikus
            Posted June 25, 2018 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

            Especially for younger couples, I like the idea of helping start off their art collection. Art is one of those things that doesn’t usually end up that high on the discretionary spending list, but it is something that makes our lives more beautiful.

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted June 25, 2018 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

              I’ll have to find someone who wants to marry me and invite you to the wedding!

            • Diane G
              Posted June 26, 2018 at 1:38 am | Permalink

              And I, too, now really like this idea. 🙂

  2. Terry Sheldon
    Posted June 25, 2018 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for the magnificent imagery and the information. Marvelous birds!

  3. Posted June 25, 2018 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Fantastic photos!

    Regarding your audio troubles… Rode is a respectable brand and there might not be anything wrong with your microphone. If it has an internal battery and if you can turn off “plug in power” on the camera you might try that and see if it solves the problem.

    If you’re shopping for a new microphone you can of course spend any imaginable sum, but I have found that Audio Technica products are of good quality and a good value. You will definitely want a shotgun microphone for birding.

  4. rickflick
    Posted June 25, 2018 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Bruce, for presenting this here. Great viewing! I love owls.

  5. yazikus
    Posted June 25, 2018 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Beautiful pics! Question for the owl experts:
    When driving up my gravel lane out of the forest a few afternoons ago, we came upon an owl with wings stretched out in one of the (many) potholes. At first, thinking it injured, we slowed our approach. It then gracefully took flight and perched above us in a tall tree. Was it having a dust bath? It wasn’t quite evening, so I wasn’t sure if that was normal owl behavior.

  6. Michael Fisher
    Posted June 25, 2018 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    More info on the DSLR make/model & the Rode Mic. It’s my understanding that the built-in audio pre-amp tends to be ‘hissy’ – the audio on these things is nowhere near as good as the imagery ~ cheapo circuitry for audio…

    Check cables are undamaged good quality
    Use external preamp
    Turn off camera auto gain

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted June 25, 2018 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Oh. Nice birdies. Those cutlery!

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted June 25, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      P.S. Bruce. Did Woolloomooloo turn you down?

      • Bruce Lyon
        Posted June 25, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        Hi Michael. Thanks for the information on the microphone. I googled Woolloomooloo and I am not getting the reference!

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted June 25, 2018 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

          The University of Woolloomooloo, Philosophy Department Bruce! See here:

          • Bruce Lyon
            Posted June 25, 2018 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

            Thanks! I had seen the skit but did not recognize the name. And yes, I never got tenure in the philosophy department at Woolloolooloo. Biology is my second choice.

  7. Posted June 25, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Excellent owls!

  8. Toni Jordon
    Posted June 25, 2018 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Jerry. I find owls fascinating.

  9. Paul Doerder
    Posted June 25, 2018 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful photos and commentary. Brought back memories of late winter hikes as a teenager to nesting site on an old cottonwood tree. Love to hear their calls at night. Magnificent birds!

  10. Heather Hastie
    Posted June 25, 2018 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    I love owls! Gorgeous pics, and Bruce’s stories are alaays great. All ’round excellence.


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