I hear the trill of a red-winged blackbird, the rowdy caws of fish crows, and the unmistakable hooting of an owl.
But I’m not even outside — I’m sitting in my cubicle in Boulder, Colorado, more than 1,400 miles from the nest where two great horned owls are rearing their chicks.
Nest cams give millions of people an up-close view of everyday avian drama. Today their are more nest cam choices than ever, with bird-viewing possibilities around the world.
Each month throughout the spring, Cool Green Science will point you to the web’s best nest cams. Just be prepared for heartbreak, suspense, adorableness, and lots of dead rats, squirrels, fish, mice, and snakes. Yes, snakes.
February’s Featured Cam
February’s nest cam of the month is a great horned owl nest in Savannah, Georgia, hosted by Skidaway Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The nest is built on a platform 80 feet above a golf course on Skidaway Island, Georgia, which is certified by Audubon International as a bird-friendly course. Beyond the course lies a protected salt marsh.
But this wasn’t always an owl nest — until this year it housed a nesting pair of bald eagles. When the Skidaway Audubon installed the camera, it was with the hopes of watching a pair of adorable eaglets grow up. But only one of the adult eagles arrived, and by the fall a pair of great horned owls had moved in. This behavior is typical of great horned owls, which takeover the nests of other birds rather than build their own.
The female owl laid her first egg on January 1, and a second followed about 3 days later. Both eggs hatched earlier this month. The chicks might be hard to spot at first, but keep watch for two white fuzzballs poking out from beneath the female owl. And if you can’t see them, you sure can hear them — the little owlets keep up a steady stream of peeps, cheeps, and screeches when out of sight.
The young owls won’t be able to fly for about 10 to 12 weeks after hatching, but after about 6 weeks they’ll start clambering out onto branches around the nest.
What’s for dinner?
If you tune in frequently, you’ll see the parent owls deliver dinner. So what does a baby owl eat? As it turns out, just about anything. With one of the most diverse diets of any North American raptor, great horned owls will chow down on rabbits, mice, voles, moles, rats, gophers, chipmunks, squirrels, woodchucks, marmots, prairie dogs, bats, skunks, porcupines, ducks, loons, coots, grebes, other raptors, crows, ravens, doves, starlings, and even Fluffy the Housecat.
A few days ago, viewers watched one of the owlets gobble up a rat tail. But they don’t stop there — great horned owls will supplement their mostly mammal-and-bird menu with reptiles, insects, and amphibians.
Great horned owls typically hunt at night, but a daytime meal isn’t out of the question, especially with hungry mouths to feed. First, they spot their prey while perched on a tree or pole. Then, they swoop down on silent wings and grab the unfortunate critter with their talons.
Tips for Watching
Infrared technology allows you to watch the owls after dark, which is handy given that they’re a nocturnal species. For prime viewing, we recommend that you tune in around dawn and dusk U.S. eastern time. When things are quiet, or the little owlets are tucked out of sight beneath an adult, check out highlight clips below the main camera.
We also recommend following the @SavannahOwls twitter feed, for facts about the growing great horned owls, screen grabs from the cam, and helpful identification of the latest tasty meal. (Clapper rail, anyone?)
More Nest Cams for February
Can’t get enough? Another great camera to watch now is this great feed of two laysan albatross nests nest in Hawaii.
Check back in March for another cam of the month, and share your favorite cams in the comments below.