If you’ve never gotten a peek at a family of great horned owls, Pennsylvania’s largest and most powerful owl, there are tree nests in two public parks in Lancaster County right now.
For the patient, three downy-covered owlets and their parents may be seen in a crack of a tree along Cocalico Creek in Ephrata’s Thomas P. Grater Community Park.
The owls have nested there for several years but seem to be attracting a lot of attention this spring by birdwatchers and park users. The park is located on Cloister Avenue.
To locate the nest, you can usually just look for a knot of photographers along the bank of Cocalico Creek.
In Mount Joy Borough, at least one owlet and a parent or two have been seen regularly in a hole in a sycamore tree in the borough’s Little Chiques Park on Park Avenue.
Owls don’t build nests. They often take over crow or hawk nests and line the nests with their own grasses before starting a family. Or, as in these two local nests, they use holes in trees or banks.
Owls are among the earliest of birds to nest, and great-horned owls are the earliest of the earliest. The female usually lays two or three eggs in February.
Eggs hatch in about a month, and the owlets cannot fly until they are almost three months old.
So visitors to the parks in Ephrata and Mount Joy have plenty of time to take a gander at this wild sight before the owls fly the coop.
Don’t get too close, though. Great horned owls are known as the fiercest of the eight species of owls that either nest in Pennsylvania or visit in winter.
Great horns are very protective of nests and have been known to attack humans who get too close.