Monday, April 20, 2009

Great Horned Owls

Another of my favorite animals is the great horned owl. For the last 18 years we have lived on the edge of Live Oak Canyon in Redlands and often hear them hooting in the evening. Occasionally, we are blessed to have them perched in a tree near our home and may even be able to see their dark outlines in the dim light. On rare occasions, we will see them fly, their large wings flapping to keep their bulky bodies aloft. The evening we finished moving in to our home, there was a great horned owl perched in our neighbors tree, hooting, and I took that as a good omen.

The San Bernardino County Museum, located in Redlands, has a yearly exhibit of the winners of the federal duck stamp competition. Artists paint pictures of ducks and compete to see whose painting will be included on the duck stamp put on each waterfowl hunting license. Along with that exhibit, wildlife painters, photographers and bird wood carvers attend to show and sell their works of art. About five years ago, I was visiting the show and came across an artist whose work I really liked, Kevin Pack ( I commissioned him to do a water color of a great horned owl for me, which now hangs on the wall in my law office and is also featured on his website (
My uncle, Maynard Sorensen, is a wildlife woodcarver that used to attend shows like the one at the San Bernardino County Museum. When we lived in San Diego, he entered carvings in several shows there and I fell in love with his work. He has carved life-sized golden eagles and a life-sized California condor that is in a museum in Oregon. I commissioned him to carve a great horned owl for me. In a moment of serendipity, the same day I gave him the go-ahead on the carving, a young great horned owl was standing in the middle of the street, a few houses down from ours, as we were driving to church. I thought it might be hurt, but when I got out of the car, it flew away. A number of months later, when the carving was finished, I traveled to Maynard's home in southern Utah to pick it up. Below, he puts some finishing paint on the owl.

He holds the finished owl below. The wood it is standing on came from a walnut tree in Nauvoo, Illinois that was blown down in a windstorm.

We have the owl perched on a pedastal in our family room.

A close-up of the owl and stand.

A close-up of the amazing paint and carving detail in the neck and breast feathers.

A close-up of the face. The owl is carved out of tupelo, a very soft, light wood, obtained out of the swampland in the southern U.S.

Last year we were fortunate to have a pair of great horned owls nesting in our neighbors pine tree. The nest was very high in the tree and we could not see any young ones. But the owls were ever present and we heard nightly hooting, and even morning and early evening hooting. A picture of mom or dad in the pine tree below.

The best part happened one Sunday afternoon. Our neighbor knocked on our door to inform me that a young great horned owl had fallen out of the nest and was now hiding in the bushes in front of our house. The neighbor led me to the spot and, sure enough, beautiful yellow eyes peared up at me as I stared into the bushes.

As I tried to get closer for a picture, the young owl fluffed up her feathers and clicked her beak menacingly. If anyone had tried to pick her up, they would have head serious issues with her sharp beak and lethal claws.

But the most memorable part about her was those amazing yellow eyes.

She was in our bushes the remainder of the afternoon. We called a local pet shop that finds homes for homeless young birds, as we were afraid she might be killed by dogs or coyotes during the night. We were told that she would be okay. That the young birds commonly flutter to the ground for awhile before they get their flight wings and fly away. Later that evening, I went outside and she was gone. I looked all over the neigborhood and finally determined she must have flown away. I was sad, but also happy.

This spring, the owls are back. I'm hopeful they are raising some more young ones and that we might, once again, have an opportunity to view them at close range.

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