Friday, April 13, 2012

While we are on the subject of Great horned owls: Hamlet on her eggs by Ronnie James

Hamlet on her eggs threatening Ronnie


Woodlands Wildlife is a small wildlife rehab facility specializing in birds, and is the home of Hamlet, a permanently disabled Great horned owl. This time of year Hamlet is busy responding to hormones stimulated by the changing length of days and nights.

On January 14, the wild Great horned owls started coming up from the canyon to hoot and holler over Hamlet’s cage. They are trying to establish their territory and chase the caged interloper out of it. Hamlet just hoots back—telling the wild ones the same thing. They argue back and forth like that all afternoon and evening, then again toward dawn. 

Despite having been misidentified by a veterinarian 25 years go, Hamlet is a large female Great horned owl with a paralyzed wing and foot. By February 21st she had built a nest in her cage and gotten more aggressive towards me. Though she has adequate nesting material and many places higher up, she always chooses to excavate a shallow depression in a corner of the gravel on the floor of her cage. Eventually 3 eggs appear. They are about the size of large chicken eggs, and she sits tightly on them. She has no mate, so the eggs are sterile—like all animals, including humans, owls produce eggs because their hormones tell them to. Official guidelines tell me to remove the eggs so she will stop being aggressive and get on with her life, but she's so content sitting on them. She coos and clucks softly to them, and defends them fiercely, so I let her keep them. 

In nature her mate would bring her food while she tends the nest, but since she has no male to feed her, the job falls to me. I defrost several mice, warm them, and make the trip to her cage where a tricky little dance ensues as I try to keep my fingers out of her lunging beak.

Hamlet will sit on the sterile eggs for 60 days, then her hormones will change and she’ll suddenly abandon the nest, not recognizing the eggs she defended so fiercely just the day before.

It’s a great sadness to me to see this proud, handsome bird living alone in a cage. I wonder continuously if I have done her a favor by saving her life and giving her a home, but no answers present themselves. 

You can read about Hamlet, Honey Bear, Jacob Otter, Rosie O’Coon and learn how we do wildlife rescue and rehab in our book, Touching Wings, Touching Wild available at our web site:  Written for adults, it is also appropriate for young readers age 9 and up.  

Ronnie James,
Woodlands Wildlife
For more information on Great horned owls visit


  1. Hi Ronnie, It's Lisa From the National Reptile Foundation. I just wonder if you might not be able to give her some eggs that WERE fertile?
    Perhaps there may be some Owel eggs from another species that she could raise? Perhaps just a few chicken eggs? Hmmmm, after thinking about the chicen eggs, that might not be such a good idea, as baby chicks do not eat regurged mice, perhaps another endangered species of Owel would be the best kind for her to sit on.
    It's just a thought.... What do you think?
    Cheers, Lisa Chiapero

    1. Ronnie sent this in reply:
      Not a good idea. It would result in a hatchling and subsequently a very misguided adult that thought is was a great horned owl but would never be able to live in the wild or breed. It could never live in the wild because it would quickly be killed by it's own species who would see it for what it was, another species behaving in an abhorrent manner. If it survived to maturity, it would always try to seek a mate among great horned owls rather than its own species--and it would be killed by any GHO it approached. In general a cruel and unnatural trick to play on any animal. Your comment did bring to mind all the humans I see lately with small adult pets being treated as though they were human babies. It's all a matter of respect. Ronnie James