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.
March 25, 2023
Today I got another up-close experience with the owls. Lately there hasn’t been a lot of activity so it was nice to see one of the owls sitting right out in the open, and close by!
March 28, 2023
Bob was in a photoshoot mood today! He picked a spot overhanging a path far below, sitting in what was left of the sun.
PS – this photo was used in my post about getting better owl photos, a good read if you’re struggling to get the shot!
March 29, 2023
Another sort of quiet day at the nest. Bob appeared at the nest hole, then went to one of his favourite nearby branches and watched the sunset. Nothing much to report!
April 3, 2023
Bob only stopped by for a quick second — just long enough to snap this photo, before he was gone.
April 11, 2023
I came by the nest in the afternoon and saw Bob hanging out, and when I returned later around 7, he was still there. He was quiet for a while, but eventually, he called to Helen, and she responded. He had done that a few times on the other days, but I hadn’t heard a response those times so it was nice to hear to her. They had a little chat, then Bob eventually dived at something nearby. He was unsuccessful, which was too bad. After returning to his branch, we both tried to get a good look at each other but there was a bit of a problem
April 12, 2023
Bob was in almost the exact same spot I found him in yesterday. Today he was sporting a loose feather, suggesting maybe he got into a scuffle last night but he otherwise looks fine. This has been the trend as we approach the hatch zone, Bob waiting closely nearby the tree. After a lot of nothing, Bob called to his faithful mate, and once again she responded from the nest. But made no appearance. Then Bob returned to chilling on a branch, with a few yawns and stretches, before taking off to a new branch. Once he left there to go across a ravine I normally would have left, but there was still some light so I decided to follow and luckily caught up with him in the hunt
April 18, 2023
Helen made a rare appearance from the nest entrance, and then she took off. I think it’s a good sign if she’s starting to leave the nest again — could mean babies!
April 19, 2023
Just as I suspected, the babies have hatched! It’s too soon to get a photo, but I could hear them calling from the nest. Helen popped out again, before taking off. She’ll be out more and more to hunt now that she needs to feed the hatchlings!
April 27, 2023
I arrived in the woods to find Helen on the hunt. I did my best to keep up with her, but she went a little bit far so I decided to head back to the nest with hopes of meeting her or Bob back there feeding the babies. Around 8:40pm I started to hear the babies, but I still can’t see them.
It seems like an unsuccessful start to the hunt tonight; last time there was quite a few stops between both parents but tonight I haven’t seen anything. It’s still unclear how many babies there are as I can only hear one cry at a time
April 30, 2023
Once again I found Helen on the hunt, in almost the same spot I watched her for about an hour, and while it seemed like she might make a move several times, she never did. She ended up taking off and though I could hear the robins, I couldn’t get eyes on her so I returned to the nest and waited until sunset before leaving
May 2, 2023
This was a huge owl day! I stopped by the nest just after sunrise and didn’t see anyone, but a little further in I found a different owl that may have been on the hunt for its own young (or maybe just hunting for itself!) Later on, I found Sunny and Cher, making their first season appearance. Sunny and Cher are quite lovey-dovey with each other and met up briefly before separating once again. After that, I made my way back to Helen and Bob’s nest just in time to see Bob exiting the tree cavity before he found a “quiet” place to rest for the day.
May 3, 2023
Somehow I topped my huge owl day that was yesterday (4 owls) with 5 owls today! Sunny and Cher made an appearance, Bob and Helen made brief appearances, and a mystery owl also appeared!
Sunny and Cher were together, which seems to be the trend. I haven’t located their nest yet, but I am working on it based on where I see them and have a few suspected places.
Helen was hunting when I found her — she seems to hunt closer to the nest than Bob which has been very convenient. At one point the two met up, and both went to the nest one after the other to drop off food for the babies, but I didn’t manage to get any shots. I did see Bob on my way back out of the woods, so at least I got one shot in.
May 7, 2023
I found Bob almost immediately tonight. He was sitting in a tree, likely hunting, but seemingly very relaxed about it. Some airplanes flew overhead which he was not impressed with (check out the stinky little face he gives the plane!). Eventually, he moved on, and I went off to find Helen. I almost missed her — the robins were going nuts and I was looking all over when she flew up from what seemed like thin air to a branch right in front of me.
Still no babies out of the nest as of yet, but fingers crossed they will make an appearance soon!
May 8, 2023
I arrived in the field near the nest to find Helen right on the trail. I followed her for a bit, then on the way to the nest found Bob. He was just leaving, which I was sad to miss, but I did get some photos of him. Then I set up by the nest just in time to meet Helen. She called lightly to the babies and they responded, which was exciting. She then went into the nest, presumably to drop off some food, and took off. The babies still called for her for a few minutes after she left, and they are actually starting to sound like classic barred owlets. I hope that this means they’re getting close to peeking out of the nest
May 9, 2023
Today Helen was hunting in what is normally Bob’s hunting grounds. She dove into the shrubs at one point and came out. with a baby mole for her own babies. She dropped this off very quickly at the nest before heading back out. It took me a little while to locate her again — I was on a cliff side and she was in a tree below, visible only through a small break in the branches
May 10, 2023
Helen was high above me in a tree tonight, eating a young eastern cottontail. She brought the leftovers to the babies (still haven’t gotten eyes on them yet!) before going hunting again. She was perched on this one particular tree right on the path that has a slight bend to it — perfect for an owl to sit on — and attempted to hunt something right in front of me, though she was unsuccessful. Eventually, she moved onto a different spot and managed to secure a big juicy earthworm, which she brought back to the nest. Funnily enough, I saw Bob catch an earthworm almost exactly a year ago, on May 13th. Shortly after I saw the babies, so fingers crossed that means I’m going to see them soon!
May 11, 2023
No Bob or Helen today, but I did get to see Cher sitting over a wide part of the creek!
Sunny and Cher tend to be a bit more nervous than Helen and Bob, so although she stayed for a decent amount of time, she still ended up taking off sooner than Helen would have.
May 12, 2023
THEY’RE OUT OF THE NEST! Today, one baby was sitting right in the nest entrance, just like Helen likes to. This was clearly a lot of effort for the little one as it eventually was lying down at the entrance. A second baby was in the branches surrounding the nest.
At the moment, they aren’t doing much. There were a few wing flaps from the baby in the tree and a big yawn, but that’s about it. Either Helen or Bob came by and fed the baby in the nest, and said hello to the one in the tree, but I didn’t see their face so I can’t say who for sure.
May 13, 2023
One thing I have yet to see is how baby barred owls climb. It is well documented that these tiny, fluffy babies climb to get places, and yet I always miss it. Today when I arrived at the nest, one baby had made its way all the way to the very tip of a fallen log, and I would have given anything to see it! This baby was fed a delicious mouse by one of the parents and then sat peacefully on the point for the rest of the time I was there. The other baby has made its way quite high into the tree, but the parents never came by to feed it while I was there.
May 14, 2023
You’d think a day wouldn’t make that much of a difference, but the babies both looked bigger today. The baby who has chosen the fallen long as its spot even looked to have a big gut today.
I did also look for Sunny and Cher’s nest, and although I found them, I was unsuccessful in the nest hunt. One of them did get close to one of the suspected nesting spots but flew right past it, and I didn’t see any baby owls around it, so I think it might be a bust
May 15, 2023
Somehow, one of these babies made it 100 feet away from the nest up into another tree where it’s really hard to see them. Once again, I would have loved to see that journey, but I guess it isn’t meant to be unless I sit there all day. One of the babies remains on the very tip of the fallen log. I think it’s the same baby, but who knows?
Bob made an appearance tonight as well, hanging out in a tree in the other ravine that borders their home. He attempted to catch something but was unsuccessful, and was being watched very carefully by a rufous hummingbird when he returned to a nearby branch.
May 16, 2023
Our little baby who likes to sit on the log has disappeared, and we only have the baby that adventured far away from the nest, but that baby is so far up and tucked in I can barely even get photos.
Helen was hanging around tonight but didn’t appear to be hunting. Maybe she was just watching over things?
May 17, 2023
I craned my neck forever looking for the babies tonight. and it wasn’t until the last minutes around sunset that I finally managed to find one of the babies. This is presumably the baby that was spending all its time. on the log when the other baby already moved on since I could still hear that baby in its new tree. Other than that, a quiet night!
May 18, 2023
No babies today, but I did see Bob twice — once about halfway through my walk, and again when I returned to the nest. I also saw lovebirds Sunny and Cher grooming each other, which was super cute! One baby was high up in Bob’s favourite tree, and other than that I didn’t see much action
May 22, 2023
I arrived in the nesting area to find the robins freaking out over Helen. Nothing unusual really. Then she flew into a pine tree branch and they really started going nuts. I couldn’t get a good look at her until she flew off into another tree, and that’s when I realized that she had stolen a baby from a robin’s nest. She began munching on her little treat when she accidentally dropped it just a few metres away from me. Helen glided down so delicately from the tree to retrieve her snack, at first she wasn’t sure about me being there, but she relaxed and began eating. She then hopped up onto a nearby log and that’s when I realized she had actually snagged TWO baby robins. She finished up and brought one to a baby in a nearby tree, before exiting to a nearby tree. While my attention was on this baby, the second baby flew to another tree nearby, which I was thankful for — they had been too far away from each other since they first decided to leave the nest and it was making tracking them trickier.
I stayed with the babies for a little while before Helen started calling for Bob. They met up just long enough for Bob to bring her a Spotted Towhee, which was quite the ordeal, and then she ate a little bit of the bird. Once her own cravings were satisfied, she flew off — right past the second baby that was waiting into another tree. I thought this was pretty off, but assumed maybe she wasn’t quite finished snacking yet so I followed her and that’s when I realized: there are THREE babies this year.
For Barred Owls, three babies aren’t unusual, but two is more standard, so this was very exciting. I watched as Helen fed her baby, then hung out with the little trio until sunset.
Watch the video of Helen and the Robin here:
May 29, 2023
Today I had just come home from Penticton, so I didn’t get a lot of time to see the owls. Or a lot of energy for that matter! I did get to see Bob briefly as he perched on a tree trunk, but didn’t get to see the babies or Helen
May 30, 2023
I found Bob in a slightly unusual spot, hanging out nice and low. I’m unsure if he was hunting or hanging out, but he was there for quite a while.
I did see the babies, but wasn’t abe to get a satisfying photo of them since they were up high — a bad combination of backlit by what light was left in the day, but also too dark to produce a good image.
May 31, 2023
The babies were hanging out in their new hang-out spot, but once again I was unable to get a satisfying photo of them. I did see the three of them hanging out together on a branch, which was incredibly cute!
June 1, 2023
While I saw the babies and Bob today, nothing exciting happened, and again, no good photos.
June 2, 2023
The good photo drought is finally over! The babies actually few right down to my level and to the forest floor today. I even managed to snap a few photos of them hanging out together.
While these photos aren’t my typical standard, I think for the purpose of this blog they do just fine.
The babies are definitely starting to get more curious and more adventurous. They are also flying a lot better, although they still flap their wings quite a bit more than their parents to get from point A to point B. They are also starting to examine their surroundings more, with one of them even flying right on to the trail and picking up a rock to test how tasty it was (it turns out rocks are in fact not tasty!)
Bob stopped by, much to the excitement of the baby owls. One baby actually flew right at him, which Bob didn’t seem to appreciate, and he took off, with the three babies following along shortly after.
June 3, 2023
Today I witness something incredible — Helen led the babies right back to their nesting grounds. The baby barred owls were hanging out in their usual spot, but not being very active. One of them was actually lying down on a branch sleeping! But as the sun faded away, Helen stopped by and began to call to them. The babies followed her down towards the ravine, and almost as soon as they would land with her. she would take off again, closer to the nest each time, and begin calling to them. When. we got back. to the nest, Bob was also there.
June 7, 2023
Timing is everything, and tonight’s timing couldn’t have been better. Helen was on a branch in the ravine, eating a rabbit she then shared with one of the babies, who ate it whole!
The other two babies were waiting in different spots in the ravine, but Helen didn’t come with any more food.
June 11, 2023
The babies were once again having out in the ravine — it seems to be their new spot ever since Helen herded them over. I can understand why — the spot has all sorts of logs for the babies. touse, and some of the mossier once. have proved to be very useful in “pouncing practice”, where the babies jump down and attack the moss.
This new location is proving to be a challenge for me though as it’s a darker spot in an already dark forest.
It seems that Helen and Bob. are around less and less, so I think maybe the babies are on the road to independence
June 14, 2023
Remember how I thought the babies were on their way to independence? Scratch that.
At the bottom of the ravine that opened onto a main trail in the woods, I ran into another photographer who had also been watching the babies. She had observed the positive of what I’ve been observing — for her, Bob and Helen had been around a lot (and were there today too!) feeding the babies. And not just dropping food off, Helen had been tearing up food and giving it to them! It shows that no matter how much time you spend with an animal it can be hard to get the full picture.
Helen had brought a rabbit when I was there and left it with one baby, who was being very timid about eating it. She returned very soon after with another meal for the other two babies, who she fed herself.
I also saw Bob earlier in the. day with a squirrel, and based on what the other photographer told me, he ate one half of it and then stashed the other half for later.
June 15, 2023
An exciting day to be an owl photographer!
The barred owlets got really curious today, and while all three were hanging out in. the ravine I’ve grown to despise, they were hanging up higher, so they were on my level at the edges. of the ravine. And as a bonus, they were feeling extra curious today, and they came right to the path to check out me and two other photographers.
To be honest, they didn’t really do anything exciting, but it was nice to be able to get close-ups of their faces to help track who was who. I still don’t have names for them — it’s a lot harder to tell three apart than it was to tell two apart last year!
June 16, 2023
Owls were not my purpose today, but owls are inevitable.
Helen was on the hunt, watching for what I assume was rabbits based on what I’ve seen of her chosen hunting location.
The babies were back in the ravine, but as the sun set they took off, and something told me I just had to follow. I’m so glad I did as it allowed me to capture this moment of one owl grasping it’s siblings’ feathers so tightly, as if it was begging them not to leave.
It seems that it is more likely to see two owlets sitting together or near each other than it is to see them all three together. I can’t help but wonder if it is always the same two, and if it is, is the owlet that hatched first the odd owlet out?
June 20, 2023
Today Helen and her owlets pushed what I thought were their territory borders. Barred Owls can be territorial, so I based their potential territory on where I had seen them routinely as well as where I had seen other owls.
Had I not been tracking what their cute little faces looked like, I probably would have assumed that these were three different owlets. And at first, when it was just one owlet, that is what I assumed. But soon, all three showed up, and flew very close to me. One parent (unsure who) stopped by and gave a mouse or maybe a mole to one of the babies, which caused quite a frenzy for the babies who did not get fed. They stuck close together after that, almost as if the two that didn’t get a bite to eat were ensuring it wouldn’t happen again.
June 22, 2023
The barred owlets must have been feeling adventurous because tonight they were hanging out on a trail that is most commonly used by bikes!
The trail is on the other side of the ravine they love, so it wasn’t unusual for them to be in the area. What was very cool was that once again, they came closer and closer to me. When photographing wildlife it is always important to keep a respectful and safe distance, but sometimes the wildlife does not keep a respectful distance from you. In the case of the barred owlets, I typically roll with it.
One. of the barred owlets was having a great time on an old stump, flapping its wings and pulling at the bark. At one point one of the other owlets came to investigate as well, but wasn’t as interested in the stump as the sibling.
Eventually when it was time to leave, one of the owlets followed me briefly.
June 26, 2023
My time with the owls was very brief tonight as I was walking with my father, but one of them gave me quite the show (photo coming soon!)