This will be my last Bird of the Month for the Indiana Audubon Society. I believe it’s time for me to step aside and give someone else the opportunity to ramble about birds. It’s been fun, and I can’t believe this is my 32nd highlighted bird.
In my parting, I’m hoping that we who enjoy birds and love birding, grow in wisdom. In that hope, I’ve chosen the Great Horned Owl as the Bird of the Month. A bird we often times associate with wisdom.
I honestly don’t know how wise this owl is, but they do indeed “look” wise. Their upright posture, fixed forward stare, and facial discs that look like huge spectacles, can give this bird the impression of being a pompous scholar of some type. While perched, they seem to ponder their surroundings with some strange air of knowingness and wisdom.
Wise or not, the Great Horned Owl is by feature and design quite an impressive bird. They have excellent night vision which allows them to hunt in very low light conditions. While their vision is exceptional, their hearing is even more so. Their hearing allows them to pinpoint prey in zero light conditions. They have feathers designed to allow for almost total silence of flight, even while using powerful wing flaps. What would seem to be a design flaw of having eyes that are “fixed” in their sockets is off-set by a neck that is capable of rotating a full 270 degrees. All amazing handiwork.
The Great Horned Owl is a powerful hunter! I won’t even make an attempt at an exhaustive list of the known and potential prey of this bird. But as one author put it, “Almost any living creature that walks, crawls, flies, or swims, except the large mammals, is the Great Horned Owl’s legitimate prey.” No wonder this bird has the nickname of “Flying Tiger”.
I’ve seen the power of this flying tiger first hand. I’ll never forget an encounter I had with one some years ago when I was a soldier. I was stationed in California, but I found myself dropped off, via a C-130, in the middle of the night, in Arkansas. My squad received orders to secure a particular objective. On our way to that objective, we came across a Great Horned Owl looking at us from some tall grass. (We probably wouldn’t have noticed this bird if it weren’t for the night vision goggles we were wearing.) It was just sitting there. After a few moments of observation, out of curiosity, I couldn’t help but approach the bird. (Even as “SSG Gray” I had a fascination with birds.) I was thinking the bird was injured or something, because I got about 15 feet from it before it finally, and rather reluctantly, flew off. When I got to the spot where it had been, I noticed why it was so hesitant to leave. It had killed an opossum. The power of this bird is shown in this kill by the fact that possums weigh from 10-14 pounds. Great Horned Owls weigh 3-4 pounds. Great Horned Owls regularly take prey much larger than themselves.
As I pass off my Bird of the Month ramblings to another, I hope to cross paths with you out in the field. I also leave you with a simple poem I’m reminded of called “A Wise Old Owl” by Edward Hersey Richards:
A wise old owl sat in an oak.
The more he saw the less he spoke.
The less he spoke the more he heard.
Why aren’t we like that wise old bird?
Good birding to you!