Ellis Bird Farm owls are back!

It’s getting to be the time of year that I love. The house finch are singing up a storm in our backyard.

A momma great horned owl peers from her nest with her fuzzy-feathered youngsters at her side. Visitors to the Ellis Bird Farm this year

A momma great horned owl peers from her nest with her fuzzy-feathered youngsters at her side. Visitors to the Ellis Bird Farm this year

It’s getting to be the time of year that I love. The house finch are singing up a storm in our backyard.

I’ve had reports of both magpies and ravens carrying nesting material. The first sightings of European starlings, horned larks and Canada geese have happened.

This means it is the time I get in my car and drive hundred and hundreds of kilometres checking out nests to find out which ones are occupied by the great horned owls.

I’ve already found two! Both have interesting back stories to them.

Last year I found a red-tailed hawk in a nest a short distance to the south and east of Red Deer.

About a week later, a friend told me she had found a great horned owl on a nest in that same location.

Both of us had the same township and range road and both of us were certain of the species occupying the nest. So what was the scoop? Was she right or was I? Turned out that both of us were right.

We took a drive out there and I pointed out the nest and said, “See! It’s a red-tail in the nest.” She agreed and pointed to another set of nearby trees and said, “See! It’s an owl in that nest.”

This year, the owl has set up housekeeping in the nest that the red-tail used last year. I wonder if that means the red-tail will use the owl’s nest when she gets back from down south? I’ll have to keep an eye on that one.

The second nest is even more interesting. It is located right on the property at Ellis Bird Farm, in between the visitor’s centre and the gazebo. Three years ago, a pair of great horned owls moved into an old magpie nest in the spruce trees.

Visitors to the Bird Farm enjoyed watching the owls hanging out. They raised two babies that year. But then tragedy struck.

On the same day as the annual Bluebird Festival, the female owl was hit by a car and killed. But with the resiliency of nature, the male returned to the same magpie nest with a new female the next year and they raised one baby.

Then came last year. The magpie nest was in terrible disrepair, disintegrating would be a good word to describe it, and the owls didn’t come back to it. Myrna Pearman, at Ellis Bird Farm, thought they might have nested in some trees farther away from the farm, but the nest was never found.

Then Myrna heard about the wire basket nest we’d put up at Medicine River Wildlife Centre for the great grey owl, and she proceeded to get one put up in October in the spruce trees at Bird Farm.

Lo and behold, on March 2, momma owl was spotted sitting in that nest, hunkered down on eggs. I went out there on March 5 and saw both mom and daddy owl.

The male was in some trees nearby and he flew off a short distance when we approached (We didn’t approach, too closely, never fear.) A little bit later, I was sitting up by the teahouse and heard the pair softly talking to each other. It was so wonderful to listen to.

Ellis Bird Farm opens to the public on May 24. If you’re interested, you could go out there; you will probably be able to see the young by then. But the fact that the great horned owl so readily accepted the man-made wire basket nest gives me hope that the great grey out at Medicine River will nest in the basket we installed for her. We are keeping our fingers crossed!

But while on the subject of Medicine River Wildlife Centre, I will put out my annual plea to let me know if you have any nesting birds, or actually anything with babies, anywhere on your property. I’m always on the lookout for nests, dens, and the like to reintroduce orphans to wild families.

Call me at the Wildlife Centre (403-728-3467) if you can help out.

Judy Boyd is a naturalist with the Red Deer River Naturalists.

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