Hunting in the daytime — the Great Horned Owl

If not for the phone call from my mom, I would have missed it. The owl was hunting today.

I had gone into the kitchen to refresh my cup of tea when the phone rang. As I talked to Mom, I walked to the window to look out and that’s how I saw the owl when it moved. From the corner of my eye, I caught the motion of a large bird landing on the bank of the creek. I saw its horns and knew it was the owl.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012

I grabbed the camera that I keep in the kitchen and started shooting.

After a short while, the owl flew up to perch on the branch of a nearby tree and waited.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012

At first the owl looked kind of sleepy and sluggish, occasionally rotating it’s head with a slow, smooth, robotic motion. I don’t know if it was the juvenile I had seen before, or an adult, for I heard neither the immature squawk or the Hoo, hoo-oo, hoo, hoo characteristic of the Great Horned Owl. The owl was hunting. A silent stalker.

I want to get a photograph of this great bird in flight. So I wait.

A little sparrow lands on our deck by the bird feeder. It doesn’t realize the great predator is  a quick glide away. A downy woodpecker arrives to peck at the suet. The owl waits.

I stand with my camera aimed, focused and ready. I want to capture the moment this huge bird spreads its wings. An American goldfinch lands on our feeder.

American goldfinch – January 16, 2012

A blue jay flies past the owl unconcerned. A second joins the first. The  owl watches. It has perked up. It’s movements are quicker. It watches its surroundings but does not leave its perch. It looks left, right, left, straight ahead, and then behind.

More goldfinches join the first one at the feeder. Five goldfinches occupy the perches, a downy woodpecker is on the suet feeder, two sparrows hop on the deck furniture. The little birds fly from the woods to the feeders and back again. The owl waits.

I have been watching in a ready position for over 30 minutes. My shoulder starts to ache. I think I should get my tripod, but am afraid to leave my watch and miss the owls departure. I wait.

The owl looks down at the ground. I see a little squirrel running past and then up the tree.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012

The squirrel doesn’t notice the predator waiting. The owl watches the squirrel on its way up the tree and waits.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012

Forty-five minutes have passed. I take a chance and hurry to the closet for my tripod. I make it back in time. The owl is still waiting. A downy woodpecker lands on a tree beside the owl’s roost. The owl watches, but does nothing.

It’s been over an hour. A sprinkling of snow flakes trickle from the sky. My cell phone rings in the study where I left it. I am afraid to leave my watch. I don’t answer.

The birds are gone now. I think the owl is waiting for prey to land near the creek below. I’ve witnessed this large bird swoop down and glide along the creek bed in the past.

An hour and fifteen minutes have passed. I am getting hungry and thirsty. I see my cup of tea across the room where I left it when I answered the phone. I dash there to get it and return to my watch when a large motion catches my eye.

A hawk has arrived.

Red-tailed hawk - January 16, 2012

The owl watches the hawk that stays in the nearby trees for a minute and then leaves.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012

The owl still waits. And I wait with it.

Finally, after more than an hour and a half, the owl moves. I do not get a photo of its flight.

I follow its movements to a nearby section of the woods.

All of a sudden there are two large birds in flight, landing. The hawk has returned.

Hawk near upper left corner, owl near lower right corner of photo - January 16, 2012

The hawk watches the owl.

Red-tailed hawk - January 16, 2012

The owl watches the hawk.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012

The hawk moves to a different branch, one that’s closer to me.

Red-tailed hawk - January 16, 2012

The owl still watches the hawk.

The hawk leaves again, swooping past my deck, it’s glorious wings spread full.

The owl waits.

It moves to a new perch above the creek.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012

It preens its feathers.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012

And waits.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012


You can hear the call of the juvenile Great Horned Owl here.

34 thoughts on “Hunting in the daytime — the Great Horned Owl”

    1. They are. We heard an adult great horned owl the first summer we were here and I held “owl watches” at night to try to see it to no avail. So happy this little guy was out in the daytime.

  1. Amazing! I’ve been seeing lots of red tailed hawks. Not nearly as exciting as catching a horned owl. How fun to take those pictures.

    1. It does blend in doesn’t it? It makes me wonder how many times it’s been sitting out there in the trees and I didn’t even know. This little guy eventually went to sleep I think because he was there for quite a few hours.

  2. Great post, Christine. You were as patient as that owl, indeed. I’ve only seen snowy owls in the wild. How your owl blended in with the trees–how on earth did you ever see it?

  3. In the collaborative novel I’m writing with Norma, we make use of the sound of a screech owl, late at night, for a good laugh.

    I’ve heard one of them go off on a howl… it sounds like bloody murder.

    I haven’t had the luck to see a great horned owl, but they blend so well with the surroundings that it’s easy to miss them.

    1. I listened to the tape of screech owl online when I was trying to identify the squawking we were hearing (later identified as a juvenile great horned owl). The screech owl is creepy. You’ve got that right.

  4. It’s amazing how much time can be spent bird watching, and waiting for that perfect shot. Glad you stuck it out. Seeing an owl in the wild is a real treat. I wish my neck turned as freely! lol

  5. What amazing photos and patience too Christine… the Owl blending into the woodland you could hardly see him..
    You have some spectacular Neighbours! with WIngs! 🙂 xxx Love and Blessings

  6. How lucky! What a thrill that must have been. Our great horned owl never makes appearances during the day. I’ve seen him once since we moved here and that was at dusk, flying over us while we were out in the rowboat.

    You have quite a menagerie as well as an obviously good place for viewing and photographing. I think Great Horned Owls are one of the few predators of red-tailed hawks. Amazing that both were there at the same time.

    1. It was thrilling. We heard, but never saw, our great horned owl before. Our son was startled by it flying overhead one night, but otherwise, no. These owls are juvenile and you know how teens can be, up all night day.

      I didn’t know that about them being predators of the red-tailed hawks. Fascinating. I could tell they weren’t friendly, but I didn’t know which one had the upper hand.


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