Baby Owl and The Vulture

by candy47

A baby Great Horned Owl in a nest is easy prey for predatory birds.

I was sitting at my computer early one morning watching cute kitten videos when I heard an all too familiar sound outside, I knew it was the gurgling sound of a vulture. (I use the word vulture to describe a predatory bird). These are big black predatory birds, some are the American Crow and some are the Common Raven, I can't tell the difference. When these birds see live prey they hover over it and make a gurgling sound.

It was about 8 a.m. when I heard the gurgling so I looked out the window and saw a vulture hovering over a Joshua tree. I knew right away that there is probably a bird's nest in the tree and the vulture is preparing to snatch the birds from the nest. I grabbed a broom and ran out to the tree, it's about 50 feet from my house, and scared the predator away, for a while. They always wait a while then return. It was the nest of a Great Horned Owl.

I spent the entire morning looking out the window to see if the vultures returned. When I saw a vulture I ran outside and chased it away with my broom. This went on for several hours but I couldn't keep it up all day and night. I could only hope the mother owl returns.
These photos show the timeline of events.

All photos by Candy Dorsey © 2016 All Rights Reserved

Do not copy or remove


Baby Owl in the Nest

This is the first picture I took in the morning of the baby owlet in the nest, completely vulnerable to predators who were already hovering. The mother owl wasn't with the baby owlet, I didn't see her anywhere. Sometimes the mother watches the nest from a distant tree, but a Joshua tree is perfect camouflage for an owl.

Baby Owl in a Nest
Baby Owl in a Nest

Vulture in the Tree

One time it was kind of a close call because as you can see the big bad bird was perched and preparing to attack. This is how I knew for sure the mother wasn't nearby, otherwise she would have chased it away. I was running and waving a broom as I took this blurry picture, it was the best I could do.

Vulture in the Tree
Vulture in the Tree

Mother Owl Returns

Finally, shortly before sundown the mother owl returned and took her place in the nest with the baby owlet. She has that 'don't even think about it' look in her eyes. The mother owl does this every day. But would that be enough protection?

Mother Owl Returns
Mother Owl Returns

Papa Owl Arrives

Just as it was beginning to get dark, the papa owl arrived and stood guard in front of the nest as the mama owl stood behind.  This scenario occurs almost every evening.

Papa Owl Arrives
Papa Owl Arrives

Five Weeks Later

Still in the Nest

It was February 4th when I took the first photo of this baby owl in the nest. It is now March 10th and the owlet is still in the nest but as you can see it is beginning to outgrow the accommodations. The section circled in red is the tailfeather popping out from the nest. I'll be keeping a watchful eye for when the baby attempts to fly away.

5 Weeks in the Nest
5 Weeks in the Nest

Six Weeks Later

Ready for Takeoff

Six weeks have passed and the baby owl is still in the nest. Mom and Pop visit regularly and stay a while. The vultures haven't been hovering lately, possibly because the owl has grown so much it is now a threat to them. This is the latest photo taken today, March 17th. This baby should be taking flight any moment!

Six Weeks in the Nest
Six Weeks in the Nest

The Final Chapter

We are now approaching seven weeks in the nest. The baby owl was in his nest all day on March 18th. Being nocturnal, the baby took flight at about 7 pm that evening. It was dusk and I was trying to hurry in the semi-dark with a camera through the cactus in the desert. I managed to get this still of him atop a Joshua tree.

Baby Owl Atop a Tree
Baby Owl Atop a Tree

Flight Pattern

Captured on Video

The natural behavior pattern of a baby owl upon first flight is such that he will take short flights from his nest to one tree then to another and another before returning to the nest. He will stay there until the next evening when he makes those short flights once again. So far, I've seen him do that three nights for about 10 minutes each time. It is now March 21st and he is in the nest. I expect he'll be taking flight at 7 pm, but I don't know which of those flights will be the last, without returning to the nest.

I got there just in time for his second flight and captured it on video!

Behavior of the Great Horned Owl

A Great Horned Owlet will stay in their nest for six weeks after hatching. This is much longer than most other birds. During that time, the mother owl will leave the owlet alone for several hours during the day, then return late afternoon. She will position herself in a nearby tree where she can see the nest and prepare to attack if a predator approaches. When she sees a predatory bird she will fly from tree to tree to detract it from the nest.

Just before dark, the father owl also stands guard either in the tree with the nest or in a nearby tree also acting as a decoy. The mother and father communicate back and forth during the night (I can hear them but can't see them).


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Updated: 03/01/2017, candy47
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candy47 on 04/16/2018

Thank you john111. I love to roam the desert too.

john111 on 04/08/2018

The photos are absolutely magnificent. I love to roam the desert and have seen so much wildlife. It is great that you can bring a sense of the "family life" of the desert to folks who are not familiar. Thank you.

candy47 on 05/07/2017

Thank you CountrySunshine!

CountrySunshine on 05/03/2017

Candy, I really enjoyed the story of the baby owl, and the pictures! I do wish to point out that a vulture only eats dead animals, so if that is what was watching the owlet, you needn't worry! On the other hand, crows will eat eggs & nestlings, so perhaps that is what you saw.

I hope next spring you get to experience more hatchlings. Thanks for sharing!

candy47 on 04/15/2017

DerdriuMarriner wow, that's interesting and I'm glad you shared it with me. The owls use the same nest every year, and right now (4/15/17) the mother owl is in the nest waiting for her eggs to hatch. Everything I documented in this article is happening again!

DerdriuMarriner on 04/15/2017

candy47, Thank you for caring about the survival of the baby owl. I just watched The Eagle Huntress about Kazakh training of young children in catching, keeping and releasing golden eagles. The eagle preferentially is taken at three months and returned home seven years later. The statement that stays with me is the Kazakh notion that what happens in the nest (or cradle) affects wildlife and people for the rest of their lives. You've given a baby owl happy memories of being protected and a sure caution against predators.

candy47 on 08/16/2016

Susan, I would not have seen this owl's nest had it not been for the vulture hovering. Now I know where to look each year.

Susan on 08/16/2016

We hear owls but rarely see them. What fun to see the journal of your owls! The desert habitat is so beautiful.

candy47 on 08/15/2016

Thank you so much Olivia. I love taking the pictures.

Olivia on 08/14/2016

This is such a great pictorial and I love thank you @Candy47. I'm enjoying your pictures.

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