[Blog] Ruffled Feathers 2 – The Evil Great Horned Owl

The first big bird I received from the University of Colorado Natural History Museum was a Great Horned Owl. 


Like this guy, he looks friendly (ish?). Or so I thought…



Photo credit: Vicki’s Nature via photopin

I walk in and the specimen is sitting face down in a tray under a hood where we thawed birds. Keeping them in a hood minimized the smell since after all, they are freshly thawed carcasses that have no form of preservative outside of refrigeration (and depending on cause of death it might have baked on asphalt for a bit before collection.)

By now I’ve managed some sort of process to familiarize myself with the bird. For a lack of a better term, I get to know its feathers and limbs and look for any damage or spots that I might need to hide in the images (I do try to minimize blood or any other possible gore when possible). And above all my goal is not to damage these specimens further which is difficult considering their state of decay.

Slowly and carefully I extend and flex legs and wings. Great Horned feathers ,or rather any owl feathers for that matter, are wonderful to touch. They have an incredibly soft fuzz on their feathers to keep them silent when flying. I couldn’t resist the urge to pet it. In stretching the wings, I make sure the feathers are arranged properly to hide any missing feathers or possible damage. The camouflage and patterns on the feathers are so detailed that even up close its hard to see where one feather starts and one ends. Shades of grey blended with tans and browns across the wings and back. It’s quite lovely.

After spending far too long petting this creature, I turned it over to begin photographing. What I didn’t think would be facing me is a pair of over sized bloodshot eyes staring at me.



This is what greets me. This is nightmare fuel in its most feathered form.

All my little birds from previous shoots had their eyes nearly shut, but not this owl. Instead, quarter-sized eyes glowing bright red greeted me and my natural response was to scream far too loudly for a near silent facility such as a museum. Luckily, only the owl heard me and I didn’t have to explain myself and my momentary lapse of professionalism.

One last fun fact – Owls seem to get rigor but only in their feet. It’s the only group of birds I’ve seen this with and I’ve photographed about 10 different species. It might have to do with the intense strength they posses in their feet – one measurement claims up to 3000 psi (think gator jaw level of power).


Outcome – a great piece that closely resembles Aububon’s original owl print. I love this one so much. And you can see the weirdness with the feet. Check it out.


With comparison


About the series – While collecting images for this series I have found that I have been collecting stories as well. Some of them are informational and steeped in the adventures I encounter in the museums and in nature. Most are lighthearted and a by-product of my somewhat scatterbrained habits that lead to quite a few ridiculous misadventure. They documented here for your entertainment. READ MORE HERE Ruffled Feather 1 – Cliff Swallow 


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