My husband calls for me at the same time I hear the call of a barred owl “Who Cooks For You?” as the sun sets on February 23rd, 2019. He had his headphones on, so I didn’t realize he didn’t hear what I did, but he sees an owl from the window. Then we see another. I am scrambling to get my camera because I am so excited. Last year, I heard owls for a short time but never saw them. Little did I know this would turn into a daily sighting and a really amazing owl love story.
Almost everyday, I looked out my living room window and in broad daylight in the bare pecan trees would be an owl hanging out in the same spot. Females are larger than the males, but it is still quite difficult to tell the two apart. These trees hover right over parking lots for a tex-mex restaurant, an apartment complex, and a food truck park. It drove me nuts that I couldn’t figure out where a nest cavity was, but knew it had to be close.
One morning I look out because I heard the nonstop calls of a hawk. It turned out to be a Cooper’s hawk not too happy with the owl, but the owl wouldn’t budge and the hawk eventually gave up and flew away. I also heard unhappy blue jays, helping me locate the owls’ location.
Once the leaves started to come in the owls moved their daily spot a bit closer to the restaurant, but still in great view from my apartment deck. On April 25th, I finally get a clue as to where the nest is. I watch this spot closely. Then on the evening of April 26th, I saw something fluffy from the tree cavity I was convinced the owl flew into. On April 27th, there were two! I couldn’t believe that just two days later they would be adventuring outside the nest.
On April 29th, the first barred owl chick left the nest and was blowing in the wind on some small trees, making its way to the patio of a first floor apartment in the complex next door that is behind a fence. The parents were keeping a close eye, but I was so afraid someone was going to open the patio door. I was cringing all evening and hoping it would get higher up in a more substantial tree.
Unfortunately, its journey was delayed when a lady on the second floor of that complex spotted the adult and chick and proceeded to hang out on her patio to watch. The owls were absolutely frozen and didn’t move for hours. I so wanted to tell her to watch from inside and let them be! I was so happy when I saw the chick in a safer spot the following morning. It wasn’t until one had left the nest to realize there were not two chicks, but three!
It is April 30th, and I am watching the first chick. After a small break, I look outside my window and see a chick flat with its wings out in the parking lot. This was the second chick! I watched as it moved to the curb, but then crawled up in some brush by the fence line and just laid there for hours not trying to get up into a tree. It eventually bumbled over to a tree limb on the ground, tried to get up onto it with its beak, and gave up just laying face down. I could tell it was stressed and I wasn’t sure if it was going to have the energy to get higher up. I was also worried people and dogs would come along. I made the decision to bring it to the local wildlife rescue to make sure it was okay and give it some time to gather energy with the hope it could be returned.
The third chick left the nest May 1st. I called the rescue in the morning to follow up with the chick I brought in the day before. It was doing well and with us leaving to go on a trip later that day, I had no time to waste to get the chick back and return it to the tree so it could try branching out again. Owls fledge the nest earlier than other bird species in a process called “branching,” which involves a precarious number of days where the owl sits out, literally on a branch being tended to by the adults.
The nest cavity was at least 20 feet up the tree. It was going to be a challenge without a tall ladder. Thankfully, the apartment maintenance team agreed to help. I saw one of the adults come back to the nest cavity and look down in, which was a promising sign. After doing some math, the eggs were laid sometime between February 21stand March 4thand they probably hatched between March 25thand April 1st.
We did not get home again until May 4thand wasn’t going to be able to spot owls till the following morning. Of course, we were worried the entire time we were away. I have seen both adults and either a single or two chicks together. When I saw the two chicks, I could hear another so I am confident they are all still doing well. It is going to be pretty hard to see the whole family at once now. I am fortunate though to be able to glance behind me on the couch as I write this and am looked right back at.