Bird Droppings: Thanks to a Great Horned Owl

New Tucson Audubon column 
By Pat Bean 

Back before I became a birder, but when I was traveling with a car full of HawkWatch volunteers on their way to count raptors as they flew over the Goshute Mountains, one of the passengers in the van yelled: “Stop”

He then explained that there was an owl in the large tree beside the road. Everybody piled out, binoculars in hand, and went to look. I was the last one to spot the bird, and had to wonder how in the heck someone had seen it from a moving vehicle. Who would have guessed back then that I would become one of those people yelling for a driver to stop because I had spotted a bird?

The eyes of great horned owls are amongst the largest and most powerfully acute in the animal kingdom. -- Wikimedia/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Photo. 

I blame that darn Great Horned Owl, whose golden eyes stared into my blue ones when it blinked to check out all the commotion beneath its lofty perch. From that day forward, I began noticing all the birds living out their lives in a world that before this day had been mostly invisible to me.

I’ve seen many Great Horned Owls since that day back in the late 1990s. My most recent encounter with this second largest North American owl – the Great Gray Owl is the largest – began this past February when a pair of them began courting. Normally active only at night, I could hear them hooting at all hours of the day, but especially in the early morning.

They were trying to set up a nest in a large tree visible from my third-floor apartment balcony. A couple of Ravens and a Cooper’s Hawk, however, began loudly pestering them and they moved to another tree. I couldn’t blame the harassers, however, because they knew the pair would be looking at their offspring as a meal for their young owlets. 

Two of the trio of juvenile great horned owls flitting around my apartment complex. -- Photo by Pat Bean.

I continued to hear, and occasionally see the mated pair of owls, on my early morning walks, and eventually located their nest. Now there are three Great Horned juveniles flitting around my Catalina Foothills apartment complex. Since young birds haven’t yet learned to fear us humans, they’ve been putting on quite a show. What a treat.

But I still wonder how that first Great Horned Owl I ever saw was spotted from a moving vehicle.
Pat Bean is a retired journalist and now a freelance writer who is passionate about nature, books, art, – and birds. A native Texan, and longtime Utah resident, she now lives in Tucson with her canine companion Pepper, and is putting the finishing touches on a book about her nine years of full-time travel across North America in a  small RV

Write and Smile Pat Bean