Clip of the Week – great horned owl chick stretching its wings

Clip of the Week

This week’s clip shows a great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) chick stretching its wings in nest in a saguaro cactus, while being groomed by its parent. It was filmed by John Cancalosi, in the Sonoran Desert, Arizona, USA. 

The great horned owl

An aggressive and powerful hunter, the great horned owl will take rabbits, hawks, snakes and skunks as prey, and even attack porcupines! (Often with fatal results for both predator and prey). This has earned it the nickname “tiger owl”. The owl hunts by watching from a high perch, then swooping down to capture the prey in its talons. In northern areas in winter, great horned owls may store uneaten prey frozen, coming back later to thaw out the carcass by “incubating” it!

John tells the story behind the clip

“This Spring I was lucky to find several owl nests and set up a hide on the nest that was best for photography. Normally, when I set up a hide on a nest in a saguaro cactus, I must build high towers to put the hide at the same level as the birds. This time I was lucky that one of the nests was located on a hill, so I was able to place my hide on the ground, and still be able to see into the nest, from a safe distance so as not to disturb the birds. This was the easiest setup that I had ever had on nest in a saguaro. I went into this hide in the pre-dawn for several weeks running. The parents were very attentive to the young and I was waiting for the right combination of light and behaviour to capture the photos and video that I was looking for.

One day, as a storm approached, the winds threatened to blow me and the hide away. Then came the lightning. Should I bail out or stay and risk electrocution? I took the risk and survived, although there were some dicey moments as lightning strikes came way too close for comfort. The storm passed, and the wind, rain and lightning subsided. I was able to record one of the three chicks stretching its wings and being tenderly preened by its parent, as they dried off from the dousing they had just got. It was well worth weathering the storm for owls and photographer alike. Though of course, the owls had no choice!”