Amongst all the changes in our world these past few months, our team member Val has been watching a small but important one unfold right outside her window in the foothills of Alberta. She's been grounded by the steadfast natural cycles at play—especially their cuter side.
I live on an acreage near High River. It's an area of windswept prairie with full views of the Rocky Mountains just south of Calgary. In the middle of April, while working from home, I was interrupted by some loud “hooting and hollering” outside.
On investigation, my husband and I discovered that it was some Great Horned owls that have chosen to nest in one of our poplar trees. Since then, I’ve been treated to my own Hinterland Who’s Who, watching this pair raise their owlets just outside my window.
That protypical “wise old owl” of children’s stories, it's easy to recognize the Great Horned owl (also known as the “Hoot owl”) by its pointy feather tufts. They're often referred to as ears or horns; but interestingly, I've learned that they are aesthetic only and have nothing to do with hearing.
These impressive predators exhibit a mottled grey-brown plumage with a cinnamon-coloured face, large yellow eyes, and grow to about two feet tall. Like most raptors, the female is larger and stronger than her mate. Great Horned owls are the most common owl in North America and have been given the honour of being named as Alberta’s provincial bird. So we've been graced with some extraordinary beauty!
Great Horned owls, who mate for life, always take over a nest built by other birds. This year’s nest in my poplar tree was built by magpies about four years ago. Then, it was taken over by red-tailed hawks before finally being used this year by the owls.
Even with the leaves off the trees, my husband and I had been too busy earlier this spring to even notice the pair setting up home, although the female will have been sitting on the eggs since January! Based on their size and fuzziness, the owlets are probably about five weeks old now and we know there are at least two in the nest. Soon they will start “branching”, leaving the nest to hop around on adjacent branches to test strength. We hope to see them start taking short flights in another week or two.
Finding Space for Natural Inspiration
Nature really is amazing. Having grown up in Exshaw, Alberta in the shadow of the Rockies, I have a tendency to think of “nature” on a grand scale—spectacular vistas, magnificent mountains, gem-like lakes. However, watching this owl family the last couple of weeks has given me a different perspective on just how much is going on in my own back yard.
Being “stuck at home” has allowed me to notice the buds emerging on the trees, turning into catkins and now fresh green leaves. I’ve have the pleasure of watching the Canada geese migrating their way north. A Pileated woodpecker has been drumming powerfully on my chimney as I work. The beavers have been busy, busy, felling the trees at the creek as the old grey heron stands quietly by. White-tailed deer, coyotes and red foxes thrive, and the purple prairie crocuses push up from dry hillsides and turn their faces to the hot spring sun.
All day, every day, we are bombarded by noise and bustle of activity, overwhelmed by the business of life. Despite the unfortunate circumstances of COVID-19, this time at home has been a gift. Self-isolation has allowed me to practice silence, to take the time to notice the small details and to harmonize with the world around me.
Watching our little owl family flourish and being mindfully aware of the energy of spring has brought me great joy and reaffirmed my life-long appreciation for the incredible diversity and beauty of nature. Above all, in a time of uncertainly, it has brought me peace, knowing that mother earth will always find a way to help us heal.
I'm reminded of some wise words from John Muir: "Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."