Photo: Sharon Haubrich Condie
Great Horned Owl in Flight
This photo sent in by Sharon Haubrich Condie of a Great Horned Owl sparked a memory of a tragic encounter with this majestic creature.
It’s a cat! Wait, it has horns… It’s an owl? If you’ve ever seen a Great Horned Owl, a not so uncommon experience in Saskatchewan, then this may have been your thought process.
Sharon Haubrich Condie from Kincaid, SK, who spotted this particular owl and snapped this stunning photo, says, “I had to follow this Great Horned Owl around an old abandoned yard we have—it would only let me get so close before it would fly away to another tree. Thankfully, I was able to catch a few shots of it sitting and a couple in flight.”
Sharon's photo sparked a memory for Lisa: her father's frightening encounter with this beautiful creature while she was growing up on the farm.
When I was 8, we moved from the big city of Calgary back to my grandparent's home on the farm in Norquay, SK. The farm was a wonderful place for a kid, and I spent long hours on top of the turkey barn admiring our small menagerie of farm animals: a few cows, a couple of horses, a sheep, a dog, and a great number of cats.
For Dad, a city slicker who was trying his hand at managing all these creatures, it wasn’t quite the joy ride that it was for me. Mom, of course, thought most of farm life was obvious and intuitive. I’m not sure Dad felt the same way.
My grandparents’ first home had been converted into a chicken coop when "the Big House" was built. The coop was one level with a few rooms and some very nice windows. Each window was covered with chicken wire, but it had been a long time since anyone had checked whether or not the wire was secure.
One morning, Dad went to feed the chickens. As he approached the chicken coop, he could hear that there was "trouble in the henhouse." In this instance, though, the trouble was literal. When he opened the door, he was met by a large, intimidating, camouflaged shape on one end, hens on the other side, and in each corner a dead hen with its head slashed off. It was the work of a Great Horned Owl and it did not take kindly to having an audience. The trapped owl saw my unseasoned father and simultaneously tried to escape the coop through the slightly opened door. It flew straight at Dad's head, filling the coop with its massive wingspan.
A quick slam of the door and Dad raced for the house with an unsightly gait to get his gun. Although we begged to go out and see what was happening, Dad did not want us to witness the carnage, and there was no the time to explain. I can only imagine how he felt opening that chicken coop door the second time to take aim. Sadly, the owl had no way out of the coop and it was flailing into the windows and repeatedly hitting the screen that had slammed shut behind him. Already it had injured itself trying and and was too dangerous to catch or release. With both fear and regret, Dad took aim and relieved the poor bird from its entrapment and injuries.
Since then, all my memories of that terrifying encounter with the Great Horned Owl have centred around the beautiful mounted bird that shared Dad's office for the next 20 years. As kids, we used to stroke the massive bird and marvel at its outstretched wings and razor sharp talons for Dad had it mounted the same way he saw it for the first time: flying, wings outstretched, straight for his head.
Known for the tufts of feathers that extend above their head, the Great Horned Owl is one of the most common species of owls in North America. They also have the most distinct call, the familiar "who-who-who" that is usually associated with owls. So next time you hear the call, make sure you try and spot the majestic Great Horned Owl who made it!
NOTE: Please keep in mind when reading this article that this encounter took place nearly 40 years ago. If you come across injured wildlife there are great places you can call for help. Here are a few:
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