Thursday, June 2, 2011

An Owl That's No Pussycat

After our terrific Codger-led success calling 'n cam trapping a fiesty great horned owl at the Chimineas Ranch - with just a plastic owl and my iphone - I thought I'd try the trick again and check out the GHOs around our family lodge near Mariposa, CA. We see and hear great horned, and know they nest in the woods around the house, but don't know specifically where.

owl caller
iOwl - my handy owl caller

So, I set the scene in a clearing where we've seen them before - at the corner of two trails named main street and lakeside cut. I stuck our old plastic owl (doesn't every farm have one?) on the end of a broken branch, and wedged it into a cluster of winter-fallen limbs - anchored just well enough to not be a casual pushover. Then I clamped the cam trap to a nearby branch, and hid the iphone-driven caller on the ground, between the cam and fake GHO:

the set
Faux owl and my new Pentax 10 mega pixel homebrew cam trap. The iphone and speaker are hidden on the ground between and below

cam trap pov
The view from the cam trap camera at 7:59pm

It didn't take but 16 minutes of calling after I left the scene before our local territory holder answered the challenge and downed the plastic intruder:

faux owl down
8:15pm - 16 minutes later - no more fake owl

Our victor returned after 13 minutes more for a photo, and to give the fallen foe a "What? You want another piece o' me?" stare down for still hooting:

the victor poses
8:28pm - the "How-dare!" glare

And, much like at Chim, the repeated calling afterward from the hidden iphone definitely caused some serious confusion, consternation and frustration.

But, it also allowed us to get a solid look at this beautiful death-from-above beast, as it kept returning to inspect the iphone, and search the darkness for the ghost competitor-owl...

what is that thing?

where is that coming from?


glare of confusion

contemplating iphone mangling

Notice - our local búho has 1/2 an ear tuft on one side. Perhaps from fighting? We've seen the GHOs get in scraps with the local red-shouldered hawk from time-to-time. Also with Steller's jays.

The position of this last shot seems to be a calling posture. Tail up, wings back, neck out... But Half-Horned's beak isn't open. Hmmm...

Great horned calling?

I don't know if the owl is male or female. The male Bubo virginianus usually defend the territory. We do know there's a resident mom around - we enjoyed one of her branchers back in 2008 - at this very same corner-in-the-woods.

And like that, poof. Half-Horned was gone.

and gone

What a stunner.

I mighta gotten lucky my iphone was there, and whole, the next morning.

How many bites does it take to get to the center of an iphone?



  1. Just SUPER, RT! Love that hard look following the TKO.

  2. he was SO not amused!!!

  3. I dont want to belittle the fascinating photos, and behavior you have captured, but I question the ethics of it. This incessant calling from the iphone is very disturbing to the territorial owls.
    Many birding hotspots like Madera Canyon in Az. Dont allow the use of playback bird calls because it interrupts the bird's breeding cycles etc. What do you think about the topic?

  4. Hey RT. Great owl shots. I think you should find a protective housing for your iPhone and speaker pronto. I have have cables and sensitive equipment gnawed and ruined by rodents. John, I don't think one night of iPhone calling would be harmful to the owl. However, generally the shorter the duration of disturbance the better.

  5. John - dr_f has it spot on. As a researcher or naturalist, we definitely don't want to do anything that impacts animal behavior repeatably for any length of time - be that via sound, scent or sight.

    Short term surprises are generally fine though, as they often stimulate curiosity and are quickly forgotten.

    But repeated and ongoing stimuli can definitely impact behavior. Feeding stations and electric fences are good examples.

    That's also why they have to ban the callers at the birding hotspots - not because a call here and there is bad, but, with the density of visiting birders, the callers would be used so often at those locations that the birds in the area would definitely be impacted/changed by their constant use.

  6. Some nice catch and great picture, waht sound are you using to attract the GHO? would you share it? this what I have shot lately


  7. Denis - terrific pics and vids. The sound came from the Codger, but it was just the basic hoo-h'hoo-hoo-hoo you hear on all the online sites, such as Cornell's, and in the various bird ID software packages.

  8. thank for the info, keep sending those amazinf find

  9. Another Question, did you built your trail cam? if yes how did you find the info to built it? right I use 2 trail cam from bushnell

  10. Hi Denis - yes, I build my own camera traps. We call 'em "homebrews." You can read about one of my builds here.


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