GENEVA – Joann and Gary Hollerauer hiked through Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva, straight to the tree in which a pair of great horned owls have successfully raised an owlet.
This is the St. Charles couple’s second year of daily walks to check on the progress of the baby and to see the parents.
“It’s been something we’ve been doing,” Gary Hollerauer said. “Last year, they had the nest in the same tree, and this year we’ve been coming back since it was born, just to watch it and see how it comes along.”
The baby owl seems to have fledged, which means it has left the nest and is practicing flying and learning how to be an owl while its parents stay nearby.
“It went from that tree to that tree,” Joann Hollerauer said. “I used to collect [owl figures]. Now I collect pictures of real owls.”
Jon Duerr of St. Charles, a member of the Kane County Audubon, said the great horned owl is a raptor that has acclimated to living near people and in communities.
“They are equally as common in towns as Geneva and St. Charles as they would be in one of the forest preserves,” Duerr said. “People complain about opossums and chipmunks and rabbits in their gardens – well, a great horned owl takes care of that … Any animal that is at the top of the food chain sets the energy flow through the local ecosystem.”
Great horned owls used to nest in the trees at the old Kane County Courthouse on Third Street in Geneva, but they have moved a few blocks away and now nest on private property, Duerr said.
“Owls do not build their own nest, they find a platform that is ready made for them or take over a red-tail hawk nest and appropriate it,” Duerr said. “If the nest deteriorates, they move,” which is possibly what happened with the courthouse owls.
Saturday is the Kane County Audubon’s all-day spring bird count, and the great horned owl trio is likely to be included because Fabyan Forest Preserve is in the counting territory, Duerr said.
The great horned owl has distinctive feather tufts on either side of its head and glowing yellow or orange eyes. It can be 18 to 25 inches tall and weigh two to four pounds, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in New York.
It also is one of the most common owls in North America, from the arctic to the tundra, from the rain forest to the suburbs.