by Trudy Irvine, Education Committee

Barry Peacock and Elizabeth Anderson-Peacock and their grandchildren were able to take a few pages out of Farley Mowat’s Canadian classic Owls in the Family earlier this season by watching a nest of Great Horned Owl owlets on Cambria Island.

Owlets on Cambria Island photo: Barry Peacock

While it may be surprising to hear about Great Horned Owls on the shore of Georgian Bay, these birds do prefer a mix of wooded and open habitat for nesting and hunting. They have indiscriminate appetites and are known to eat large quantities of mice, snakes, and other birds, which makes them quite well suited to the area, although we do not have much of their favorite food- skunks! The Peacocks noted that Cambria used to have a large population of nesting Great Blue Herons, but those numbers have dwindled recently- perhaps the owl population has grown at the expense of the heron chicks?

Here are some interesting facts about these nocturnal hunters:

  • The owls stay in their home ranges (up to 10sq km) on Georgian Bay year- round- they do not migrate.
  • They are very early nesters- egg laying and incubation is well underway before the snow is gone. Nest making is simple- they do not make their own but take over the old nests of other raptors or use a hollow tree or a ledge on a cliff.
  • Their highly developed eyesight helps them see well in low light conditions. Their very large eyes are fixed in the sockets, but they have twice as many vertebrae in their necks as humans do- this allows them to swivel their heads up to 270 degrees when perched.
  • Adaptations like asymmetrically placed earholes and the disc-like shape of their faces make their hearing about 10 times more acute and directionally accurate than ours- they can locate prey even under snow.
  • Fine, comb-like feathers on the leading edges of their wings allow their flight to be silent
Owlets 8 days after top picture- growing quickly 
Photo: Barry Peacock
Owl fledgling spreading his/her wings- out of the nest   
Photo: Barry Peacock

For more information on the Great Horned Owl, click here!
And if there is more you’d like to know about the owls and other birds in our region, don’t forget to mark your calendar for August 13 th at 11am for the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve’s webinar “Birds of the Biosphere”.