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HPAI hits close to home: Great Horned Owl fatality

March 2023


Two Great Horned Owls perch mostly hidden by bare branches in a tree in the wintertime.
Screenshot from the Winter Raptor cam from early 2022, of Great Horned Owl pair Tabitha (the female) and Hunter (the male).

In late Winter 2022, we sadly found the dead body of one of ORI's resident (wild) Great Horned Owls in the snow by our workshop. She and her mate had been featured on the Winter Raptor cam a few times over the years, and had been fondly dubbed 'Tabitha' by viewers. She and her mate had nested on ORI property for many years.

Because she was frozen, we were unable to initially determine cause of death, and so took her to the state lab in Bozeman for testing. They confirmed that she tested positive for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), which can be very deadly for raptors. (We also transported a Red-tailed Hawk to the lab, which also tested positive for HPAI).

For more up-to-date information about HPAI and raptors, please see:

Great Horned Owls can become infected with HPAI after eating infected waterfowl, which is what we suspect may have happened with this female. ORI property is located next to Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge and the Ninepipe Wildlife Management Area, which encompass important wetland habitats for waterfowl and many other bird species, so, while tragic, it is not surprising that HPAI has been found in the area.

The male has seemingly not been affected, and our other resident Great Horned Owl pair, called 'Wonky' and 'Hootie,' have also not been affected. Wonky and Hootie are featured on the Charlo Great Horned Owl cam, and can often be seen at night using the currently empty Osprey platform on the Osprey Nest- Charlo Montana Cam.

It was a somber time for us here at ORI, as we all noticed her missing presence. However, not too long after another female Great Horned Owl showed up- and she and the male have moved into one of the old stick nests near ORI property. We are glad that there is once again a nesting pair here, and look forward to watching them throughout the breeding season.

We are unable to get good pictures of the new pair and their current nest without disturbing them, but here are some photos we took over the last month, during courtship- the new female is on the right in these photos, and visible peaking through the branches in the last one:

Watch a video of this pair hooting back and forth on ORI's social media:

In the video, the male is sitting in the stick nest, and the female is perched to the left, a bit below the level of the nest. He's trying to convince her that this is a good nest for her to lay eggs in!

This video was taken in late February 2023.

We are hopeful this new Great Horned Owl pair will have a successful breeding season, and we look forward to watching them over the next few months!


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