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Monday, June 16, 2014

The Graduates | From Woodpeckers To Owls

Last Sunday Lisa and Marie, the young Pileated Woodpeckers which we saw last week, left the nest for the first time.
For the last time Marie sits in the nest while she cries for food.

Her mother accommodates her demands and then flies away to land near Lisa who had already left the nest.

Marie watches them closely as she scrambles out of the nest.

Marie spends one last moment, perhaps gathering courage for her inaugural flight, before she leaves the nesting tree as well. A young bird leaving the nest seems similar to a teenager graduating from high school and preparing to go off to college. They leave home for the first time but they are still learning to be independent. The parents are still providing support and still trying to alert their offspring to the dangers of the world.

For example, within the first hour after Marie left the nest, her mother started calling loudly and soon the crows added their cries of alarm. Clearly something was not right. There was a flash of grey crossing a log below the birds and then…
…a few moments later this raccoon was spotted climbing a tree below the young birds.

Priscilla led the young birds to a different tree and much higher off the ground before leaving to search for food. Did you notice the difference in color between the red on Priscilla's head and the reddish-pink on Lisa's head in this photo?

At this point the young birds spend a lot of time clinging to the side of the tree or sitting on a branch (which is very odd for a Pileated Woodpecker), just waiting for the parents to bring them food. As the week progresses they should spend more and more time flying with the parents and hopefully learn to feed themselves.


Yesterday, in the Arboretum, a young Barred Owl sat on a branch in the rain softly calling for its parents to bring it food. The soft high-pitched cry of the owl can be hard to hear, especially as one grows older, however the adult owls do not seem to have any trouble finding their young after they leave the nest.

When this parent returned with food the forest came alive. 

Suddenly there where multiple young owls stretching and looking eagerly for lunch. However the real noise was the half dozen crows chasing after the parent hoping the meal might be accidentally dropped into their claws.

After the feeding was complete the young owls cleaned their faces

…and their claws….

…before calming down a bit.

Even after eating and calming down they still spent a lot more time with their eyes open watching the world around them.

The young owls move their heads in very large triangles when they are curious about another creature. 

The parents triangulate with more precision and much less movement which must be one of the skills the young owls need to learn during their "college years". Actually, they only have a few months to learn to become effective predators if they are to survive the winter.

How many young owls do you see in this photo?

How about this one? Did you see the third owl on the branch in the middle of the lower right quadrant? It turns out that there were a total of four young owls in the area but they never got quite close enough to be photographed together.

If you end up in the Arboretum looking for the young owls your best bet is to follow the sound of the crows. You should also be prepared for a kink in your neck and the rain in your face as you squint to make out their shaded forms against the dappled light.

In any case, graduating from the nest, e.g. fledging, is progress but it is obvious these birds are only beginning their educational process.

Have a great day on Union Bay…where nature lives in the city!



  1. Oh, Larry, those are sensationally great photos of my two big favorites -- owls and woodpeckers. Well done. :-)

  2. Thank you. I felt very lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

  3. Thanks, Larry. I loved the photos and the stories. Nice job getting those tough shots of the owls up in the trees.
    - Mick Thompson

    1. Given that they like to be active in the dark and even during the day they seem to like to reside in the shadows getting good owl photos can be a challenge. Thank you!

  4. Tough shots well executed Larry. It may be more than just luck. You seem to be in the right place often. Chris Picard (www.pbase.com/saxman)

  5. Beautiful, technically superb photos, Larry! It's fascinating to see these fledglings, especially as they are interacting with their parents. Wonderful stories also - thanks so much for taking the time to compile your photos and prose and sharing it all with us!

    1. You are welcome and thank you for following along. It is nice to have your work appreciated.

  6. I love this post, all the babies are crazy cute!! Thanks for sharing and telling such wonderful stories about the teenage adventures.

    1. Thank you! This time of year I wish I could just grab my camera and spend all day, every day watching them grow. The real challenge is deciding which set of young birds to look for when I do have the time.