Yellowstone Reports

Printer-friendly version

Great Gray Owl Nest

Part #2
by Dan Hartman

July 3, 2012

First to recap a bit. Grizzly. Great gray nest. Three chicks. Two chicks. Whoops, one chick. Ladder. Two nests. For more info reread Great gray nest Part #1.

I returned the next night with Cassie and Kevin. When we approached the nest, the female flew down to meet us. As we were still 50 yards away, this was unusual behavior. We continued upward, and the owl accompanied us, gliding from tree to tree. At the new nest we were greeted by a horrifying sight. The little chick was hanging from the cavity by its neck. His wings and legs hung limp. He appeared dead. As the adult looked on from a nearby perch, I took a stick and pushed the owl-let up and free. It fell to the ground then instantly stood up and looked around.

What were you trying to do? I admonished him.

He looked at me and shook his head.

Kevin and I set the ladder back up and I replaced the chick. I wish I could make him understand staying put was his only chance.

We left then. Its even more obvious now I must check on this little guy every day. And I did just that. Leaving the cabin around 7PM, driving the 30 miles to the nest location and climbing the steep slope to the owls. Each night I was pleased to spot the owl-let sitting studiously in its nest, peering down at me. It was almost as if he finally realized this was his lot. On the third night I came across fresh black bear scat. This signified the end of my grizzly bear problems. After five days, the chick in the high nest was branching from the nest. Soon it would make the leap. Mom had changed her attitude also. Where before I could pick up her chick, now if I even approached the nest she would become very defensive. Even flying in close and clicking her bill.

On day seven, I reached the nest just after dawn. The chick in the high nest was nowhere to be seen. The young chick was still in its nest. However, instead of lying in the cavity, he now stood upright. He was putting weight on his bad leg. While I stood watching, I caught movement just behind. The larger chick came hopping by, behaving more like a big frog than an owl. Presently it came to a down log. Clumsily it climbed on and walked to the far end. The youngest chick watched curiously from its nest. High above, the male flew in to join its mate. For the next hour they preened peacefully. I left at 10AM.

I returned with Cassie around 6PM. The nest was empty. Our little chick was found just a few feet down slope. Mom sat just above. The older chick was already thirty feet up on a leaner.

I knew the owl-let would be susceptible to a predator for as long as it was on the ground, but we have to chance it. Besides, the female was acting so protective; Id hate to go near the chick, let alone try to put it back in the nest. I would return in the morning. If it was still on the ground I would have no choice but to put him back in the snag.

It was with much apprehension I approached the owls the next morning. Right away I spotted the older owl-let. It was now 50 feet up, perched in the upper branches of a dead fir. The female was nearby and the male farther below. But where was the little fella? It took some looking but finally he was found sitting proudly 10 feet high on a leaner.

Time has passed now. Its funny how already Ive forgotten the steep daily climb to the owls. Clouds of mosquitoes. Wandering if the grizz was behind each twig snap. I can only remember the peaceful evenings sitting quietly with the female and owl-lets. Hoping the male would soon arrive with food.

I wish I could do it all over again.


I should clarify the importance of the owl chicks ability to climb leaners. When owl chicks leave the nest they are unable to fly. For the next week to ten days they must climb up into the trees for safty. On The Ground they would easily be taken by preditors. So until the injured chick proved he could climb, I would have had no choice by to put him back in the nest.

Also, to explain the black bear scats significance. When I find black bear in an area, I seldom find grizzlies present.



View slide show

Great Gray Owl Pair

Sitting Studiously In It's Nest


Older Chick Fledging

Youngest Chick On The Ground

Adults Preening

Aren't They A Beautiful Pair?

Safely Perched On A Leaner.