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Photographer Captures Rare Owls Nesting, Breeding in Cook County

Wednesday, June 01, 2016
WTTW Chicago Tonight
by Evan Garcia

“Because it’s the same tree, I’m sure it’s the same parents,” Feeney said. “Barred owls are known to not only have the same mate for life, but they also tend to nest in the same place year after year.”

For Engel, evidence of barred owls breeding in the area is great news.

“It’s very unusual to find an actual nest or confirm that they’re breeding,” Engel said. “It’s good to know that they’re breeding successfully around here because they’re not very common.”

Feeney spotted the owls in a tree cavity located about 30 to 40 feet up a dead tree that had fallen some years earlier.

“This tree is actually right off the trail,” Feeney said. “But the trail is not very well used because this place is wet quite a bit, which deters people.”

Feeney is confident this barred owl photographed a few days ago is one of the adults from the pair he photographed in 2014 at the same location. (Josh Feeney)

Feeney tries to create as little disturbance as possible during his wildlife excursions and wears full camouflage. He’s also not afraid to get a little dirty – and damp.

“I have big, heavy wading boots because most of the trail is half-underwater,” he said. “It’s a good natural deterrent.”

Feeney said he has at least another week or two before the chick starts developing feathers needed for flying and leaves the nest for good. He plans to keep visiting the woods before that happens, but don’t ask him for directions: He doesn’t disclose the exact location of the nest in order to protect the owls from extra attention. If one of the adult owls were to get spooked and leave the nest, it could abandon the site – and its young – for good.

"That's absolutely the last thing I want to happen," Feeney said.

  • (Josh Feeney)

    (Josh Feeney)

  • (Josh Feeney)

    (Josh Feeney)

  • (Josh Feeney)

    (Josh Feeney)

  • (Josh Feeney)

    (Josh Feeney)


If you haven’t seen a barred owl, you may have heard one. Unlike some other owl species, barred owls will vocalize during the day as well as at night. They have adistinctive hootthat’s been described as “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”

Follow Evan Garcia on Twitter: @EvanRGarcia


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