Tag Archives: owls

Wood Ducks ©Matt Filosa

This Winter, Learn Indoors and Practice Outside

New Online Nature Programs

This winter, enjoy nature lessons from the comfort of your home, then take what you’ve learned outdoors to practice!

Pour yourself a cup of something warm, grab your fuzzy socks, and tune in with us online to learn about winter birds, stars, animal tracks, plants, weather, and everything in between.

Mass Audubon Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Norfolk

The Wonder of Winter Series
Thursdays • 7:00-8:00 pm

Explore the natural phenomena of winter and learn how wildlife in Massachusetts adapts to the colder season.

Join us for one, some, or all of this series.

Wood Ducks ©Matt Filosa
Female Mallard and Male Wood Duck © Matt Filosa

Ducks & Waterbirds
Friday, January 14 • 7:00-8:30 pm

It may be cold, but winter is the best time of year to view large numbers of ducks with exquisite plumages.

Tracking Mammals
Wednesdays, January 19 & 26 • 7:00-8:00 pm

Learn to interpret the subtle and sometimes glaring clues creatures can leave behind in the wild.

Do you know who left these tracks?

Winter Neighborhood Naturalist Series
Wednesdays • 7:00-9:00 pm

Become a neighborhood naturalist by learning about the winter phenomena happening all around you.

Join us for one, some, or all of this series.

Gray & Grayer: Winter Gulls
Friday, January 21 • 7:00-8:30 pm

Gull identification can be challenging, but there’s a helpful systematic approach you can take to parse out the gray and grayer. 

Barred Owl © John Harrison

Owls of Massachusetts
Tuesdays, January 25, February 1 & 8 • 7:00-8:30 pm

Learn about local owl banding, research, and conservation efforts, and meet some of Mass Audubon’s live owl wildlife ambassadors.

Winter Raptor Identification
February 9 • 7:00-8:30 pm

Find out the best places to view winter raptors and learn how to confidently identify them.

Marsh Owls
February 11 • 7:00-8:30 pm

Winter owls that specialize in open landscape hunting come alive during the twilight hours on Massachusetts salt marshes.

Mass Audubon members get discounts on programs; learn about all the benefits of becoming a member today.

Great Horned Owl © John Harrison

Take 5: Great Horned Owlets

Great Horned Owls are one of the earliest birds to breed in Massachusetts, with courtship beginning as early as December. They are not cavity nesters, but use old Red-tailed Hawk or Great Blue Heron nests, often at the top of dead tree snags. With a little luck, you may be able to spot the still-downy heads of fledglings sticking up over the edges of these large nests.

Around six weeks of age, baby Great Horned Owls begin to venture out of the nest onto nearby branches, a behavior called (appropriately) “branching.” Because their wings are not yet fully developed, they use their talons to grip branches and move around.

After another week or so, their wings and confidence have strengthened enough to try out a few awkward test flights, but they usually bungle it more often than they succeed in the beginning. This can lead to some comical situations with confused, panicky youngsters finding themselves hanging upside down from tree branches or even on the ground, sharply clacking their bills and wearing a bewildered expression. Appearances to the contrary, they are perfectly fine and will return to the safety of their nests after a brief period of recovery.

So if you come across a fluffy fledgling looking a bit disgruntled on the ground, there’s no need to worry—the parents are almost certainly nearby keeping a watchful, stoic eye while their little ones blunder their way through adolescence. Keep a respectful distance to ensure you don’t inadvertently cause them further stress, and enjoy a quiet chuckle of commiseration—after all, who hasn’t been through an awkward growth spurt or two?

Enjoy these five photos of Great Horned Owlets from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2021 contest will be opening in early June, so get your cameras ready and get outdoors!

Great Horned Owl © Jason Goldstein
Great Horned Owl © Jason Goldstein
Great Horned Owl © John Harrison
Great Horned Owl © John Harrison
Great Horned Owls © Rick Olick
Great Horned Owls © Rick Olick
Great Horned Owls © Jim Renault
Great Horned Owls © Jim Renault
Great Horned Owl © Scott Creamer
Great Horned Owl © Scott Creamer