MEET ATHENA

The Wildflower Center’s resident owl

About Athena

For more than 6 years, the Wildflower Center has been home to a nesting pair of great horned owls (Bubo virginianus). Lucky for us — and our visitors — the female has chosen to nest in a very conspicuous place, right above the entrance to our Courtyard in the sotol (Dasylirion wheelieri) planter nestled in the corner. We call her Athena, and she provides a rare opportunity to view a wild great horned owl rearing her owlets.

The female owl typically sits on the eggs for 30-37 days. Once the owlets hatch, they stay in the nest for 6-7 weeks. Based on this year’s timeline (at right), we expect the owlets to fledge sometime in mid-April, after which the family will move on (the adult female only uses the nest while incubating and rearing the young).

Come to the Center to see the owl (and her owlets) and stay for the flowers — or vice versa! Read more owl facts below.

2017 TIMELINE

February 9:
Athena Arrives

March 18:
Owlets Begin Hatching

March 27:
First Owlet Spotted

April 4:
Two Owlets Confirmed

April 27:
First Owlet Fledged

Great Horned Owl Facts

  • Great horned owls are named for their prominent ear tufts (or horns). These “horns” are made up of feathers; they are not ears.
  • The mother and father owls have very different jobs. The mother’s job is to incubate the eggs and to protect and feed the young. The father’s job is to hunt and deliver the prey to his family.
  • How can we tell the male and female apart? Only the females sit on the nest; they have a special brood patch, which is designed to keep the eggs warm. The patch has lots of blood vessels that provide warmth to the eggs.
  • Great horned owls usually lay 2 eggs, but can lay up to 4. They lay their eggs over a period of days. The female will begin incubating once the first egg is laid so the owlets hatch at different times.
  • Great horned owls have a wingspan of 4 feet but weigh almost 5 pounds!
  • Great horned owls are very territorial; their territories can range from .1 square miles to 1 square mile.
  • Great horned owls have one of the broadest diets among owls. They will eat scorpions, smaller owls, rodents, rabbits and skunks. They are very opportunistic and generalists when it comes to what they eat.
  • Owls cast pellets. These are made up of the indigestible parts (fur, bones and teeth) from their meal. When an owl eats a small animal, they swallow it whole. Most pellets are cast at roost before their next meal. If you find an owl pellet, you can learn a lot about the owls in your area and what they are eating. Whole skeletons can be put back together after dissecting a pellet. Biologists collect and dissect them to learn about owl diets.

For more information on great horned owl, see All About Birds.