Scottsdale, AZ – Tracking wonder in the great Sonoran Desert has been pure pleasure this year. We have had time to linger on the trails, making mental notes of the changes we see from day to day. One of our very favorite winter treks in the desert is a night walk under a bright full moon. It is then that we get to enjoy hearing the animals of the night and occasionally, we even get to see them going about their nighttime business.
No nocturnal animal stirs wonder quite like the great horned owl. This large raptor is common in all of North America and because of our open spaces in the desert, can be seen fairly easily if you trek at the end of the day and pay attention to subtle movements around you. Sometimes called the “tiger of the night,” adult great horned owls have no serious predators. They glide with majestic confidence across their territory, inciting terror in the creatures below. It is considered by some to be the most aggressive owl of all, know to even prey on other owls.
Starting in the fall, great horned owl activity picks up and their signature hoot can be heard in the night as they prepare for mating and owlet rearing. They are establishing territory and re-connecting with their mate, as most great horns mate for life. They are lazy homemakers and will set up their nursery in the abandoned nest of another bird or mammal, often up high on rocky ledges overlooking open areas for hunting. In the deserts, the mighty saguaro cactus fits the bill.
Most of the time, owls are pretty good at blending into things unseen, but occasionally, we luck out and spot some bright, blinking eyes watching us from above. Great horned owlets are adorable and have not yet learned of the perils of a young owl’s life. At about six weeks old, they will typically start to branch out, stepping out of the nest even though they may still be little fuzz balls. It takes them up to three months to master flying and even then, they risk of starvation or other mishaps in their first year.
Owls can be found all over North America, with 19 species calling this vast space home. In many places, they are heard far more than they are seen. As you track wonder, take time to intentionally listen to the sounds of the night. You might hear a strange and wondrous call coming from the place of things unseen.
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