I have yet to confirm that it was a Great Horned Owl that attacked at least two men near Leslie Street in south Salem. But the evidence points that way.
The map below with the Xs on it shows where the three known attacks took place.
If it is a large horned owl attack, there is likely to be a pair nesting in that vicinity. There is good open space nearby for hunting: the small Pringle Creek City Park to the north. Just to the south are over 90 acres of Bushs Pasture Park, plus Deepwood Gardens adjacent to that.
Great owls eat many mice and rats, including those sickened by man-made poisons. d-CON and other rodenticide chemicals will also kill any owls (or other predators) that find prey, dead or alive. Years ago we lived in San Francisco and the city decided to rid Golden Gate Park of its massive rat population. They used poison, and it killed all the great horned owls. It took fifteen years before the owls returned to the park. The rats had been back long before that, moving in from nearby residential and business neighborhoods with lots of restaurant waste.
Among the prey animals of large owls: squirrels, rabbits, any careless birds that are not hidden in plants or in a hole. Nocturnal targets are more likely: little owls, possums, raccoons, skunks, rats, and mice. This brings us to the issue of rat control.
Currently the female and male each hunt for their own food at night. Once she lays her eggs, the female must remain in, or near, the nest. He must warm the eggs, and protect them. Now the man is looking for himself and a mate. It could start as early as January. He now has to do twice as many kills. A windy or stormy night can make hunting difficult. He may be forced to hunt at dawn or dusk.
When all the eggs (2 to 4 usually) have been laid, the female should incubate for another 4-5 weeks. When they begin to hatch, the young must be fed and the father must bring more food to the nest. Both parents work to feed the owlets as soon as the female feels ready to leave them, usually a few weeks after hatching as they are fully feathered. That’s why there are so many great horned owls hunting around Leslie Street and the surrounding open spaces until spring.
If you are around during the dark, wear a hat or hood. Or carry an open umbrella over your head.
Read more about great horned owls nesting here.
For information about upcoming Salem Audubon programs and events, see www.salemaudubon.org, or Salem Audubon’s Facebook page.
Harry Fuller is an Oregon birder and natural history author of “Freeway Birding” and the newly published “Birding Harney County.” He was a member of the Salem Audubon Society. Contact him at [email protected] or atowhee.blog. His “Some Interesting Facts About Birds” appears regularly in the Salem Reporter.
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Harry Fuller is an Oregon birder and natural history author of three books: Freeway Birding, “Great Gray Owls of California, Oregon and Washington,” and “San Francisco’s Natural History–Sand Dunes to Streetcars.” He leads birding trips for Malheur Field Station. He is a member of the Salem Audubon Society, and leads bird tours locally. Harry recently published a new book, BIrding Harney County.
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