The return of Great Horned Owls nesting in the Cochrane area has attracted the attention of residents, including many local photographers,

For Mike Reece, an award-winning photographer and travel journalist, it has created an opportunity to help tutor Daniel Hill, one of his photography students at Bow Valley High School (BVHS).

Mike has been observing and photographing them since discovering them during the pandemic.

"During COVID, it was sort of a saviour, if you will. It became a COVID project. It was like a miracle to see these incredible things in our local forest."

mike owls 1photo/Mike Reece

"I've been sharing my photographic skills with students here at the school and that's how Daniel got interested. I didn't even tell him to go photograph the owls. He took it upon himself to head there and got some really cool photographs."

owls 3photo/Daniel Hill

Mike has been showing him the ropes of editing and using the school's software to make the most out of his photographs. He says Daniel has been doing well.

He says you can occasionally see the owlets pop their heads out of the nests but for the most part, they are hidden while their mother comes and goes to feed them. Mike says the owlets are in the process of fledging and soon will be gone for another season.

mike owl 3photo/Mike Reece

In the meantime, he recommends those observing the owls keep their voices down and move slowly so as not to cause them any undue stress.

He suggests keeping your dogs leashed because the small ones could be snatched and the larger dogs will scar them.

Several Great Horned Owls are nesting in the Cochrane area, he says, as are other types of owls north of town, particularly mentioning Great Greys that are larger and more dish-faced.

Birds Canada offers these owl observation tips for birders and photographers.

  • Watch or photograph quietly and from a distance.
  • Do not disturb roosting owls.
  • Move on after a few minutes. If the bird looks towards you, or its behaviour otherwise seems to change in response to your presence, then you should move farther away.
  • Do not bait owls. The owls can become habituated to being fed by people. This disrupts their natural hunting behaviours and draws them to the roadside, which can lead to collisions with vehicles.
  • Audio playback should not be used to attract owls.
  • Don’t use spotlights or flash photography, and do not trim foliage or cut down trees to get a better view of the bird.
  • If the owl flies away, do not follow it and do not go off trail to pursue it.
  • To avoid drawing a crowd, use discretion when it comes to sharing information about your observation. If you submit it to eBird, review the guidelines for sensitive species. We recommend that you do not mention the specific location of the owl when telling your story.

According to the report prepared by Tayler Hamilton, a volunteer of the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation, the Great Horned Owl is one of the most common owls in North America.

mike 99photo/Mike Reece

It is one of the earlier nesting species in southern Alberta, often breeding as early as late January or February. This species lays two to three eggs and both parents take turns incubating the eggs. The incubation period is 30 to 35 days, which means we can see hatchlings in our area as early as late February or early March. If one of the hatchlings falls out of the nest early, the parents will still care for him or her by feeding them on the ground.

The call of the Great Horned Owl is one of the more recognizable owl calls and is a series of deep, stuttering hoots – usually 4 or 5 in a row.

The Great Horned Owl is the official bird of Alberta and will be embodied in a wood sculpture being prepared for this summer's 25th-anniversary celebration of the Cochrane Historical Archival Preservation Society.

mike 98photo/Mike Reece