Birds & Birding

Nest Cam of the Month: Great Horned Owls

An adult great horned owl. Photo © OnceAndFutureLaura/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.

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.

Curious great horned owl chicks beginning to explore outside the nest. Photo © Matt Knoth/Flickr
Curious great horned owl chicks beginning to explore outside the nest. Photo © Matt Knoth/Flickr

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.

Justine E. Hausheer

Justine E. Hausheer is an award-winning science writer for The Nature Conservancy, covering the innovative research conducted by the Conservancy’s scientists in the Asia Pacific region. She has a degree from Princeton University and a master's in Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting from New York University. Justine's favorite stories take her into pristine forests, desolate deserts, or far-flung islands to report on field research as it's happening. When not writing, you can find her traipsing after birds, attempting to fish, and exploring the wild places around her home in Brisbane, Australia. More from Justine

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  1. This cam is on a Bald Eagle’s nest in the Humboldt Bay area of northern California and is starting the 3rd year with cams. The adults are called Mr and Mrs HBE. They’ve been having 2 eaglets most years. Since they’ve had the cams on the nest, the eaglets have been named by school children in the area. The adults are at least 14 and should have many more great years at the nest.

  2. Amazing opportunity to view these beauties! I watch it all night when I am at work. Beautiful owls.

    Thank you

  3. Around 10:45am on March 2nd there were sounds of a predator near the nest. almost immediately the mother owl came back to the nest to protect her babies. She hasn’t left the nest since that time and it is now 3:30 pm. I would think that if she left the predator, which sounded like a hawk may come back.

  4. I haven’t seen a parent around for many hours. these little guys must be very hungry. it is now 7pm. where’s mommy or daddy?

  5. finally a parent is there and brought dinner. a squirrel …can’t watch this.

    1. There are two. They just snuggle so close sometimes it looks like one

  6. Okay guys, where is the other sibling? Is he sitting somewhere on the tree away from the camera view?

  7. Where is Mama and other sibling?! This little guy has been alone and calling out. It’s not old enough to fly

  8. Did the one owlet fly off? When they begin to fly, do they return to the nest? Or do they look for a new nest?

    1. From what I’ve seen on the Savannah Owls feed, one of the owlets is “branching” – that’s hopping out onto the branches of the tree that the nest is in to explore. The mother may be nearby on the tree, encouraging this behavior.

  9. It’s such a wonderful experience watching these chicks grow and learn and prepare to leave the nest! Amazing! Thank you for this wonderful site!!

  10. Mom just brought them a snake for lunch. She is calling for them, it sounds like. She tok off with the snake,but came back. Then took off again. The owlets must be branching. Looks like they had a bird of some sort for a meal recently.

  11. The cam has been having technical difficulties for me for past 3 days…any update?

      1. From the tweets on @SavannahOwls – I gather that the juveniles are still in the area but are hanging out and learning to hunt in other trees. A pair of ospreys may be taking up residence in the same nest that the Great Horned owls were using. The cam appears to be working today, but no birds currently. You can check out our Osprey Cam: It is currently active – 3 eggs!

  12. im 9 and i want to know about the great grey owl since in our class were learning about ecosystems and im doing the forest can you tell me about the great grey owl