Who? Great horned owl family watches over Salt Lake City cemetery

Published: Sunday, April 13 2014 4:23 p.m. MDT

A young Great Horned owl peers out from its nest in a tree in the Avenues in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 7, 2014.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — At least half a dozen bikers and runners passed by a large pine tree on a recent sunny afternoon.

As they did, a team of workers roamed the grounds of the Salt Lake City Cemetery taking care of the landscape — several moving up and down the headstones edging the lawn.

None noticed the two great horned owls silently watching from above.

"They're just part of the, I guess, ambiance of this great cemetery," Mark Smith, the cemetery sexton, said. "They come back year after year."

Smith said owls have nested in the cemetery for at least six years. The mother and her four babies in the cemetery this spring are just another example of the wildlife in the cemetery, which includes deer, red-tailed hawks, magpies and other birds.

Steve Chindgren, owner of Skyking Inc. which contracts the World of Flight Bird show at Utah's Hogle Zoo, said the great horned owl is the largest owl in Utah. Great horned owls don't build their own nests; Chindgren said the owls are using nests of other birds for their home.

"It generally means there's a lot of food around them," Chindgren said. "They're probably eating rats, which everyone would be happy to hear."

The owls' horns or "ears" are actually just tufts of feathers that help the owl hide. Chindgren said these silent flyers are some of the earliest nesters in Utah. The eggs hatch and the babies are out of the nest by the end of April.

If you're able to spot the owls, Chindgren advises using common sense and being respectful.

"With any wild animal, you should look at them with respect and stay a safe distance away from them," he said.

When young owls are learning to fly, he said they sometimes end up on the ground but should be left alone.

"Have respect for wildlife and realize that they're sharing our home with us," he said.

Despite Hollywood's portrayal of spooky cemeteries complete with owls hooting above, Chindgren said the owls have just found a good home.

"To them it's just a forest that really doesn't have a lot of foot traffic," he said. "A lot (of birds) have adapted to get along well with man by keeping quiet and not giving away their nests."

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

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