Bethpage State Park's consulting naturalist Jim Jones is watching over the great horned owl chicks that hatched about two weeks ago.
The 59-year-old retired biology teacher hops in a cherry picker nearly everyday to check on one of the chicks nesting with its parents about 15 feet high in a pitch pine.
But Jones has to stand on the fairway dodging golf balls and armed with binoculars to catch a glimpse of the other chick nesting in a white pine far out of the reach of the cherry picker.
The chicks will reach their fledgling stage in about three weeks. They won’t start flying for several weeks.
Great horned owls often commandeer nests from red-tailed hawks, which are native to the park trees, and that can sometimes put their young in danger. This year the nocturnal predators made their homes in artificial nests placed by Jones about five years ago in the trees. The habitats are favorable because they offer suitable protection from red-tailed hawks as they don’t shed their needles in the winter months.
He tracks where the owls are nesting by observing pellets, regurgitated bone and hair from animals consumed by the owls. He also hears from golfers who see the birds' enormous nests and 5-foot wingspans in the sky.
“The nice thing about winter is there are no leaves on the trees so they can’t hide,” Jones said.
Jones, who is the president of Volunteers for Wildlife, a Huntington-based wildlife rescue organization, will intervene if an owl chick is in trouble because of something unnatural, such as golfers inadvertently disturbing their nests or prey. He said if an owl chick is being threatened by a natural predator, while it’s hard to do so, the park staff allows nature to take its course.
“We are big fans of natural selection,” he said. “If the problem was encountered that was due to us, for example the use of pesticides or a tree that was cut down inadvertently, then we step in.”
A great horned owl chick sleeps in an artificial nest set up in Bethpage State Park by naturalist Jim Jones. The chick hatched in the beginning of March, and Jones has been watching over it since. (March 17, 2011)