Great Horned Owl Nest-cam

Great Horned Owl nest at Hemlock Lake

Slide show from previous webcam.

The two owl chicks have fledged (grown enough feathers for flight) and left the nest. Young owls will often leave the nest while still in down so long as they have sufficient flight feathers to make short hops from branch to branch.

Hope you enjoy the slide show of archived images.


The webcam showed nesting Great Horned Owls in a nest that was made by the eagles that have historically nested at Hemlock Lake in western New York. The webcam was originally installed to view nesting eagles in 2002. Unfortunately, the eagles decided to build a new nest last year.

This nest, and the new Eagle Nests are on property owned by the City of Rochester. The City owns all shoreline property adjacent to this Finger Lake to help protect the drinking water supplied by the lake. This protection effort also provides high quality wildlife habitat and undeveloped shoreline areas that are favored by eagles. Such areas have become rare in New York State. The City of Rochester has shown a commitment to preserving this important wildlife area and is a partner in this wildlife website project.

We left the cameras at the old nest site in the hope that the eagles would return to this picturesque nest site. This spring it appears that a Great Horned Owl pair took over this nest before the eagles started their nesting cycle. Great Horned Owls are formidable birds that even Eagles will avoid. Although not as heavy as their appearance and large eyes would suggest, Great Horned Owls have extremely powerful talons and a fierce temperament. The outcome of an altercation between an Eagle and a Great Horned Owl would not necessarily favor the much heavier Eagle.

Great Horned owls begin nesting very early in the spring. They take over the nests of other birds such as crows, hawks, or, as in this case, Eagles. They do little to build their own nests or make renovations to the nests they appropriate. In fact, rambunctious young owls are known to severely damage the nests they occupy.The number of eggs laid can vary from one to five. The number is largely dependent on the condition of the mother, and that is usually determined by the food supply. Food for Great Horned Owls consists of everything from mice and voles to other birds (including smaller owls), cottontail rabbits, ducks, geese, and skunks. In fact, skunks seem to be a preferred food since owls found injured, or captured for banding will often reek of skunk odor. Owls will attack prey animals as much as three times their weight.

Although a clutch of owl eggs can result in five chicks, it is rare that all would survive to fledge or leave the nest. The early nesting can result in death from exposure to severe weather and competition for food among the chicks is intense. The weaker or later hatched chicks get less food and are often killed and eaten by larger nestlings when food is scarce.

Young owls begin short flights at about 8 weeks after hatching. The parent owls feed the young into the fall; at which time the young owls begin to hunt on their own. At this point they leave the territory of the parents. Great Horned Owls can make a living where there is a population of small animals and sufficient cover to nest. The range of Great Horned Owls covers most of the North America and extends into Central and Parts of South America. Due in part to their skill in hunting in all seasons, there is no need to migrate long distances other than to shift hunting technique to the seasonal availability of different small animals. Hence the only requirement for dispersal is to find a vacant territory to avoid conflict with another pair of Owls.

The most notable characteristics of Great Horned Owls are their size, large eyes, tufts resembling ears on their large heads, and silent flight. The eyes are adapted for acute night vision since most owl activity occurs in the hours of dusk and dawn. The ear tufts seem to indicate mood and help with camouflage. They are not placed where they would likely have any significant effect on hearing. The ear holes themselves are placed asymmetrically on the head and are extremely acute to locate the sounds of small animals. An owl’s wing feathers have softened edges that result in virtually silent flight.