George Clookey and his assistant, Karlee are in the area with their students from White Water, Wisconsin.
Monday night Karlee and a dozen students and I went searching for the three chicks from my Beartooth great gray owl nest. I hadn't personally seen them in a month. At that time the family was moving north of the nest site. So the owls could really be anywhere in a half mile circle around the nest.
We parked a half mile to the west and circled into the area from the northwest, listening for begging chicks along the way. Eventually we stood directly north of the nest. On our right lay an open sage flat that went on for several hundred yards. To our left began a boggy stand of thick spruce and fir. A squirrel barked incessively from that direction. Maybe an owl disturbed him? As we made our way towards the squirrel, I glimpsed a large owl flying off through the trees. Soon after the chirp of a begging owlet came from deeper in the foret. It took some searching, but we finally discovered a fluffy chick perched twenty feet off the ground on a snag. Another chick perched to our left. A young man in the group, Josh found a third owl perched fifty yads away. This turned out to be the adult male. As we watched, he flew off to perch higher up, but still in sight. Later Josh located the third chick a little farther to the west. The female appeared to be gone. I expected that. What most people don't understand is the female owl usually leaves the family after the chicks have fledged and can fly around a bit.
Here's how a year in the life of an owl pair goes:
The pair meets at the nest site in early April. They court and lay eggs in a snag or stick nest. The male brings in food as she incubatesand continues to bring in food until they hatch. This takes thirty to thirty-five days. For the next thirty days or so, life becomes routine at the nest. With the male delivering food mornings and evenings. The female receives the food and decides which chick gets fed. At around two weeks the female no longer covers the chicks with her body. Instead, she sits nearby and returns to the nest only to feed and preen her youngsters. Finally, at four and a half to five weeks old, the oldest chick fledges or jumps out of the nest. In the next day or two, the second chick will follow and if there's a third it will jump in another day or two. The female will continue to sit near the chicks as they move about through the forest. When food is brought in from the male, the female receives it and continues to decide which chick gets fed. Somewhere around three weeks after fledging, the female takes off. Now the male is in charge and will continue to deliver food until some time in October when the chicks will drift off to start their own lives. Sometime in November the female will return and locate the male. They'll hang out together for a time chosing a nest site for the following year. Then they'll go their separate ways and meet once again when the winter has passed and spring promises a new nesting season.