Great horned owl nest in Massey Drive too popular with people

A nesting pair of great horned owls has become a big hit in the Massey Drive area on the west coast of Newfoundland. But one researcher is asking curious onlookers to keep their distance.

The nest was discovered last year by College of the North Atlantic fish and wildlife student Brendan Kelly during an survey of nocturnal owls.

Kelly heard a male owl hooting and followed the call to the bird's nest, where he was surprised to discover a female and her eggs.

He said a buzz has been growing about the find, with people sharing the location of the owls on Facebook.

"This nest is extremely accessible ... you can literally walk up right under the tree or potentially climb the tree." 

While Kelly said it is legal to have a look, human presence can cause stress for the owls which fly at night.

"A lot of people don't understand how sensitive the owls can be to disturbance as they're incubating their eggs."

Kelly said the owls could spend too much time away from the nest, and the eggs could get cold, causing complications during the incubation stage.  

Risk to people too

But the risk isn't just to the eggs. Kelly said people who crowd the owls' space could find themselves getting an eyeful — literally. 

"Great horned owls are quite well known for being aggressive near their nests when people get a little too close. They are known to attack people ... it can be quite dangerous if you don't realize how powerful these birds really are."

He said people should be aware that the birds are under stress, and too much human interference can cause the owls to abandon the nest. 

"It's simply being ethically responsible and understanding right from wrong, not disturbing the birds and just observing them, not negatively affecting them unintentionally. 

Kelly has contacted Fish and Wildlife officers, who are keeping an eye on the owls.