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Secrets Leafless Trees Share

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One of my favorite features of winter is being able to see bird nests in leafless trees. I like to figure out what species lives in a particular area so I can look for it when days lengthen, temps warm, and foliage hides those cobbled together nurseries.

Last winter, I spied a huge nest in a lone tree tucked off Highway 9. It was so large, I thought it might belong to an eagle, but my husband quickly let me know our national birds build more ambitious nurseries for their young—maybe big enough to contain a small human. I later saw an actual eagle nest with its family occupying it in Colorado and realized he was right. That still left me wondering what creature hatched its young in this particular locale.

Patience pays off.  I kept my eye on this haphazard collection of branches and twigs throughout the winter. Finally, I spied an occupant—or at least the top of an occupant.

I love to watch the sunrise as I drive to school and pay particular attention to anything silhouetted by that rosy morning glow. Imagine my surprise last week when I spotted two backlit pointed protrusions on either side of a rounded head peeking over the edge of that raggedy, round collection of sticks. I don’t know what creature originally assembled this contraption, but this year, a great horned owl is incubating her clutch of eggs.

Seeing this sight reminded me of a pair of great horned owls that spent much of late January and early February whispering sweet nothings to one another outside the bedroom window of our previous home. Once they’d mated, silence reigned until their eggs hatched in March. Then noise levels increased astronomically as hungry babies competed loudly for the first serving of regurgitated bunnies or other prairie delicacies. After they’d eaten, I’d often fall asleep listening to mom murmuring whooty nursery rhymes to soothe her offspring.

Happy to spot this new owl incubating eggs, I’m hoping the latest cold spell hasn’t put a damper on her nesting inclinations. I’m eager to observe mom and her offspring as days get warmer and the owlets grow big enough to fledge. If I’m lucky, that tree won’t leaf out before I drive by of a morning to see young birds perched on the edge of the nest, flapping wings as they mature.

Considering its location, I wonder if this is the owl or its mate that I saw last fall atop power poles that line that section of road. Usually, the big bird was just a black outline against the sky, but every now and then, I’d see it framed in my headlights as it dove after a rodent racing across the asphalt. 

Who knows how much longer I’ll be able to watch this new family in the making. Until either they fly away or unfurling leaves hide their home, I’ll appreciate this view twice a day, Monday through Friday. Those who say Kansas is boring haven’t discovered the treasures tucked into our landscape.