Baby Barred Owl Watch is back! If you missed this last year, you can read the 2022 watch here. And if you’d like to get more familiar with Barred Owls as a species, I recommend starting with Barred Owl Facts post.
To quickly recap last year, our primary owl parents are Helen and Bob, named after Disney’s Incredibles. Last year, they raised Violet and Dash, this year, who knows what we’ll call the babies! Bob and Helen have grown quite comfortable with my presence, and rarely even acknowledge my existence when I’m around. I’ve gotten to know their personalities and habits. I also have a secondary pair, Sunny and Cher, who occasionally make an appearance as well.
Helen can be identified by the short eyebrow markings, with one eyebrow looking a little more hooked than the other. The eyebrows are not as connected to the ‘T’ that goes down the face. Compared to Bob, Helen’s body feather streaks are bolder.
Bob can be identified by a slightly broader-looking face with more distinct eyebrow markings. The eyebrows are longer than Helen’s, and one is slightly raised. The streaking in the body feathers is thinner than Helen’s. Generally, Bob seems a little lighter in colour than Helen.
This year, I’m going to do journal-style entries for each day I see my favourite two owls. I won’t be able to go every day, and won’t even see them every day, but hopefully, I’ll get eyes on them at least weekly. I’ll also include my other owl pair if I see them, though they can sometimes be a little bit more elusive.
March 6, 2023
After a few unsuccessful searches, I finally got eyes on Helen and Bob today. Helen was peaking out of the nest, and when I circled back about an hour later, she was still there, waiting. This is a pretty routine behaviour for Helen until the babies are out. After maybe 20 minutes, she took off and found Bob, who was waiting nearby. They hooted at each other quite excitedly, before Bob flew back to the nest. Unlike Helen, he doesn’t wait on the ‘front porch’, he takes a quick scan around, and then right on into the nest. I hope that means eggs have already been laid, but it is still early.
March 7, 2023
Helen was right on her spot on the edge of her nest. I’m not entirely sure why she likes to sit there rather than inside, but she stayed for about an hour and a half from when I first got her. Bob was as elusive as he was the day before, but I did get some eyes on him, even if I didn’t get a camera on him. He called out to Helen at one point, but she was a little bit too busy soaking up some evening sunshine to leave.
It seems like Helen likes to wait until right before sunset before she meets up with Bob. They greet each other quite excitedly before Bob returns to the nest and Helen remains on their branch. The branch in question is in a rather inconvenient spot (as you can see in the picture!) and it’s difficult to get a clear shot at them, but fingers crossed I’ll get one soon.
I’m still unclear as to whether or not eggs have been laid. I know it’s early, but it’s very interesting to me that they are switching off so that there is always someone home. Helen spends a lot of time sitting on her ‘porch’ rather than inside sitting on the hypothetical eggs though.
March 8, 2023
Today I arrived at the nest about a half hour earlier than I have the previous two nights. My hope was that Helen wouldn’t be out yet, and I’d be able to film her exiting the nest for her evening watch. And when I arrived, I was right — she wasn’t out yet. At this point I hadn’t gotten any decent pictures of Bob, so I took a quick 20-minute walk to see if I could locate him before settling into my spot. And boy, did I have to settle in. I sat there for an hour and a half, my legs getting stiff. Helen didn’t make a single appearance.
As sunset was getting closer, I decided that today was just not the day, and went on the search for Bob one more time. I went around and around, checking their usual spots, following the calls of angry robins, and finding nothing. The wind was coming in, and so was the rain. And the sun was getting lower and lower. And then, I heard them. They were greeting each other in the trees — someone had left the nest. I hurried over but missed them greeting each other, but did see someone fly back to the nest, so I made my way back there. Unfortunately, I missed that too. Sometimes, that’s just how it goes. I decided to check back to see who was on hunting duty for the night, and I’m so glad I did. It was hard, but I could make out a little owl shape in a tree. I set my ISO high and my shutter speed low, and attempted to get a shot of whoever it was, but didn’t get anything good. It was enough to determine that this little owl was the ever-elusive Bob. He moved to a new, closer tree, then another dead tree before I was finally able to get a shot of him. It’s not a prize-winning shot, but at least it’s shot!
I suspect the reason Helen kept me waiting was that Helen wasn’t in the nest at all. I think that Helen took the day shift, and when they met for the night, she returned to the nest, and Bob got to stretch his wings. It’s just a theory, but it’s consistent with the behaviour I’ve been observing this year.
March 9, 2023
Today, I set out with a goal: film these barred owls greeting each other after sunset. And initially, I didn’t think I would reach my goal. Their nesting grounds were busy today, and although Helen and Bob are very used to people being around them, I don’t like people observing me observe them. I prefer not to draw a crowd, and possibly the wrong attention. But once it quieted down, I was able to investigate the situation. Helen was sitting on her porch for a while but eventually returned to the cozy nest inside. So, I set up and got ready to play the waiting game. I could hear some robins calling and I thought about trying to find Bob again, and I’m so glad I didn’t. While I was turned towards Helen, Bob landed right behind me, at eye level. It’s rare that I get such a clear shot at an owl, and even more exciting, he stayed up until it was time to meet Helen.
The great part was that I got a couple of amazing shots of Bob, and some video of him calling Helen. The bad news is that I should not have trusted the autofocus system on my camera. While focusing on Bob waiting for Helen in the tree, I stepped away to film a crappy video of Helen leaving her nest to meet him. And when she landed, Bob got busy right away with Helen, causing the focus point to go from him to the trees behind them. I effectively got censored by my own camera. Oh well. At least I got something!
Watch the video here:
March 10, 2023
Today I got a video I had been waiting for: Helen emerging from the nest. I’ve filmed this before, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to film it again! But this was overshadowed by something I didn’t get on film — Helen and Bob chasing off an intruder.
I had followed Helen out of the nest to where it looked like she was going to be meeting Bob for the night, and was all set up. She moved branches a few times, and I repositioned before she took off where my camera couldn’t see. I thought that meant it was time to go when both she and Bob came back and landed directly above my head. My first thought was “oh no, these two are about to make baby barred owls right above my head, and I won’t be able to film it because they’re too close!”. So I tried to pull out my phone so I could at least get something, when a third owl appeared, flying right at them. At that point I noticed that Bob and Helen were not hooting at each other, they were hooting in the direction of the other owl. They must have heard or seen this owl coming, and got ready to scare the intruder off. The intruder didn’t even have a chance to land before Helen and Bob chased them off, over a ravine. If the sun wasn’t already down, and it didn’t take too long to get to the other side of the ravine, I would have met them over there to see how it ended, but I guess some things we don’t get to see.
March 13, 2023
After taking a break over the weekend, I was eager to get back to see the owls. Bob was a now show again, and Helen was waiting on her porch as usual. There was little to no activity until Bob called out to her, and Helen came flapping.
The pair disappeared into the woods, and I left hoping to meet them on the other side of the ravine. I got lucky — the two met up in a tree, and began grooming and what I can best describe as kissing.
I didn’t get any photos, but I did secure this video of Helen leaving her nest and calling for Bob:
March 14, 2023
Today was a quiet day. Helen didn’t make an appearance at all, and while Bob showed up briefly, he didn’t call out to her, and he didn’t stay long. I had high hopes that he would come back and see her at the nest, or at least to another nearby branch, but the sun was long gone and I try not to make a habit of walking out of the woods in the dark.
I wish there was more to report, but some days are just like that I guess!
March 15, 2023
Bob began calling for Helen a little earlier today — a few minutes before sunset! He called several times but she didn’t emerge from the nest. While waiting for her, I tried to locate him but wasn’t able and didn’t want to leave the camera unattended for too long.
It occurred to me briefly that it was possible that it wasn’t Bob. I did see a third owl that they chased away. But I think they would have seen that guy off if he was back.
Bob finally appeared and I snapped some photos. He sat there quietly just like last night before flying off.
I followed him — he appeared to be hunting. I think maybe Helen has laid her eggs. The males do not sit on the eggs but do bring food to the females, and I haven’t seen him actively hunting this way so far. Plus, it’s been a few nights since I’ve heard/seen them ‘get busy’, so they might be all done with that.
Based on when I saw the babies last year, it does seem very possible that eggs have been laid within the last few days:
- Last year, Violet and Dash made their first appearance to me on May 21. I’m fairly certain this was soon after they left the nest as I had been there quite a bit, but it’s possible that it happened a few days earlier
- After hatching, Barred Owls stay in the nest for 4 – 5 weeks, so based on when I saw them, they could have hatched between April 16 – 23
- The eggs incubate for 28 – 33 days, so they could have been laid around March 15 – 27
With these dates, we are right in the range for when I think they might lay eggs, and other people (like the All About Birds Barred Owl Cam) have recorded them laying in March, so I think it’s a good possibility. Plus, it is unusual that Helen has stopped coming out of the nest or calling. Fingers crossed for some baby barred owls soon.
March 19, 2023
No update is still an update I guess? I visited the owl nest on March 16, March 17, and today, and was met with a big fat nothing. I did get to see a different owl on March 16, but otherwise things are quiet at the nest.
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