Who Cooks For You?

By: Laura Heartwood, Travis Audubon Master Birder

My husband calls for me at the same time I hear the call of a barred owl “Who Cooks For You?” as the sun sets on February 23rd, 2019. He had his headphones on, so I didn’t realize he didn’t hear what I did, but he sees an owl from our window. I rush over and then we see another along with courtship behavior. Little did I know this would turn into a daily sighting and an incredible opportunity to watch the owl family grow from the comfort of our own living room.

Every morning, I opened my blinds to find an owl sitting in the same spot on a bare pecan tree above a parking lot in a very high trafficked area of town near Barton Springs. I was not seeing the two owls together anymore and knew there had to be a nest nearby or why else would it be sticking around this long? The nightly hoots continued. It was not until April 25th that I finally got a clue about the nest. I watched this spot closely. The following day, I saw something white and fluffy and all of a sudden there were two!

I would not believe that just a few days later the owl chicks would be adventuring outside the nest as “branchers.” I learned at this stage they can’t fly yet, but are capable of getting around on the trees, while still being watched over and fed by the adults. On April 29th, the first barred owl chick left the nest and was blowing in the wind on some small trees nearby, making its way to the patio of a first floor apartment in the complex next door to mine. I cringed, but could see that it was being looked after. Luckily, it was able to make its way back to a pecan tree and get surprisingly high up within a day or so.

It wasn’t until one had left, though, that I realized that I had been wrong about the number of chicks. There were two more awaiting their turn to leave bringing the total to three! On April 30th, the second came out of the tree cavity and on May 1st, the third followed. The adults definitely have their hands full. I regularly hear them vocalizing for food, but now that the foliage is thick, it is hard to spot the chicks.

I have seen adults with food, a single chick, and two chicks together. I heard another chick at the same time I saw two, so I am confident they are all still doing well. I am fortunate to be able to glance behind me on the couch as I write this and am looked right back at with big black eyes.