Cherish is my favorite word, and I cherish the ability of turning the routine into a beautiful moment.
Nature creates in me, a spiritual and meditative time to bring peace, harmony and balance, into an otherwise ordinary day~
Mary Howell Cromer

Saturday, January 22, 2011

First Excitement, and Then Deep Sadness~

For so long, I have desired the chance to view and photograph an owl, a Great Horned Owl, Great Gray Owl, Barred Owl...really any owl.   What took place yesterday in broad daylight gave me this extrodinary opportunity.  The first few minutes I was excited, and then I became more anxious as the next five hours unfolded.  By the end of the day and into the evening and even this morning, I felt deep sadness and yet...this is nature, this is the beauty and the cruelty of it and all must be accepted and come to terms with what we cannot for a minute change.  Here is the story as best I can relate it to you~
Great Horned Owl had just landed this immature Red-tailed Hawk around 2:15 PM on the January 21.  My husband had walked our dog about 30 minutes earlier and the hawk was not there...

Owl leaves the kill on the ground to come after our German Shepherd and us as well...not a fun moment, yet thankful for these images all the while...
The Owl flew past me and it was so close, it was crazy...

It then landed in a tree about 1/2 acre across our creek, where upon the Red-shouldered Hawks and Crows began to chase it.  Crows and hawks chased it for over an hour before retreating.  I am nearly 100% that this was a female owl.  In the hawk and owl world, the females are the largest of the pair.  The owl would fly further and land once again to the loud yells of the hawks and crows.  It was all very surreal, just could hardly believe what was taking place, yet kept up with them for the whole while...

Top two images is the adult female Red-shouldered Hawk that I have had pleasure to journal and photograph since 1996.  She along with the adult male and the young one all were chasing and yelling at the owl, along with about a dozen large Crows...

Another one of the Red-Shouldered Hawks in on the chase...

The owl finally ducked into the snow covered fur trees and from then on, it became quiet. The first thing that happens after an owl attacks usually from behind, is it removes the head.  The tail feathers are indicative of an immature Red-tailed hawk.  The nice red tail colouration comes in the second year. This was an absolute fresh kill, as I looked it over, fresh blood was still evident dripped near by as well as the limbs were still easily moved as well as warm to touch, even though the temperature was 20 ' and the wind chill even colder...
Top 2 images below are of the Great Horned Owl being chased by the Red-shouldered Hawks and American Crows...

My husband saw a smaller bird fly by our patio doors around 7:15 PM, in the dark of evening.  We turned off the lights and observed the owl eating from the shadows of the outside flood light for nearly half an hour.  As I approached the area with flashlight, I watched as an owl flew into a nearby tree, somewhat smaller than owl earlier in day...quite possibly this was the male then.  He thought that it may have been the owl fly by, but could not get over the size thing and so after the owl had left, I took a flashlight outside and my tears began to roll, for I knew right away what had most assuredly taken place...

Last images taken of the single eyas, juvie, immature Red-shouldered Hawk that so many cheered on from my blog this past season.

My husband had seen the young Red-shouldered Hawk make it's last flight as the owl came after it and caught it right at the very edge of our deck rail.  Two more feet, and the hawk may have been saved, yet that was not to be.   Nature is not always happy, yet it is balanced.  As I said before only about 10 % of young Birds of Prey make it to their second year.  It is the way of nature and we can do what we can to protect and then we have to just let go.  A friend that I shared a blanket permit to rehab and release small mammals with once told me that "Mary, you cannot take them from the cradle to the grave" and I have understood that for a very long time, and I must confess that it also never gets any easier~


  1. Incredible storie! What a great pure nature moment you witnessed. I also understand your sadness. The images are awseome...this storie is very well documented!!!

  2. Those pictures are fantastic, and your narrative is together with the photos. Great.

  3. What an experience! I read it through twice and then my husband read it also. You have explained it well, and your photos are extraordinary, esp the first two shots. I can feel the seems this shouldn't be a natural happening....and yet it is. Thank you, Mary, for documenting the story and sharing it with us.
    P. S. I got a good shot at an owl last summer. Nothing as dramatic as yours, as he was just perched on a tree branch, but it was exciting for me. I can't imagine coming upon the scene you witnessed.

  4. That stuff is hard to stomach, no doubt. I'm just glad it was the owl that killed the hawk, not a wind turbine, car or some other man-made thing. I've seen hawks get squirrels and other mammals before and it breaks my heart but at the same time, it is what it is. Try not to be too sad about it. The natural world is cruel, for sure, but much less cruel than the human world. And it is beautifully cruel, if that makes sense. I'm sorry :( but the the hawk will keep the owls going for a long time :/

  5. A wonderful story Mary, so well observed and documented. Nature in tooth and claw as you so rightly understand, and that in the grand scheme of things nature provides a natural balance to even things out for all creatures. Thank you so much for giving this insight to all the readers of your blog.

  6. Mary, this is an absolutely amazing set of photographs. What you have captured can be listed as rare and awesome to say the least. Most of us never experience being able to photograph a kill made by an owl, let alone get to observe all the other birds harassing the owl. Great job my friend, and it is too bad that nature has to be like this, but it is something that we must accept in order for all the marvelous creatures to survive. I have a Cooper's hawk that preys on my birds daily, and at first I shooed him away, but then realized this beautiful bird does have to eat too.
    Again thanks for sharing.

  7. Mary, I just found your blog from visiting Randy. Your owl shots are extraordinary!! What a tragedy but Owls are wonderful creatures too. It is hard to see this happen to a bird you have come to know. Are you showing us two separate Red-tailed Hawks kills here or the same one just eaten by two different owls? I look forward to exploring your blog!

  8. Remember too that Great Horned Owls have chicks in the nest by this time of year. Trying to find food for a family in the middle of winter is a real challenge for them. Great photos!

  9. I love watching the birds of prey and realize they survive only by catching other creatures. This year I have photographed a Cooper's Hawk with a pigeon, a Red-shouldered with a crayfish and today's post is an Egret with a vole. I've taught myself not to be sentimental but I think I would find it hard to see a hawk taken.

  10. An extraordinary sequence of events. I can fully understand your inital excitement and then the sorrow Mary. Owls are not a species I have much experience of but the GHO would seem to be an absolute brute. Definitely a tale of raw nature.

  11. A stunning set of images and a reminder that nature is not always fair in our eyes.

  12. it is amazing how one raptor will take another. the owl does not have an easy time of it, it sounds like.


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