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Great horned owl family takes up residence at Colorado Springs Lowe's

May 13, 2017 Updated: May 15, 2017 at 3:52 pm
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More than flowers and gardening supplies have been an attraction at the Lowe's on N. Nevada Ave. A Great Horned Owl made her nest in the outdoor gardening area this Spring. One of the three babies looks down from a high spot in the nesting area on top of landscaping materials on Thursday, May 11, 2017. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the shopping center.

The fluffy owlet swiveled its head, stretched and flapped its wings, as a cluster of phone photographers clicked away.

Shoppers aren't flocking to the Lowe's garden center at University Village Colorado just for the blossoms.

A family of great horned owls is living atop a pallet of ice melt on a shelving unit at the North Nevada Avenue store, to the delight of customers of all ages.

"I came for plants, and this is fabulous," Elizabeth Spittler said Thursday. "This is a huge treat. I'm a bird nerd."

More than flowers and gardening supplies have been an attraction at the Lowe's on N. Nevada Ave. A Great Horned Owl made her nest in the outdoor gardening area this Spring. Mom finds a perch on one of the rafters on Thursday, May 11, 2017. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette 

Three fluffy owlets are beginning to lose their down, and their 2-foot-tall mother usually perches nearby, another magnet for cellphone photographers.

She splits shifts with the owlets' father, employees report.

"The father comes at night, and he's very talkative," said Jade Gragg, who helps organize the center's plants for Resource Plus.

"This is the second time we've had the owls in our garden center," said local Lowe's manager Damon Garcia.

The species has a penchant for public nesting sites - especially in home improvement stores.

In March 2014, a family of great horned owls chose a Lowe's in Omaha, Neb., for its nest.

Home Depot was the preference of an owl family in Prescott Valley, Ariz., in April 2009. The great horned owls made their home on a bag of soil atop a rack in the outdoor canopy area, similar to the setup at the Colorado Springs Lowe's.

Last May, a great horned owl family was nesting in an unspecified home improvement store in Phoenix.

More than flowers and gardening supplies have been an attraction at the Lowe's on N. Nevada Ave. A Great Horned Owl made her nest in the outdoor gardening area this Spring. One of the three babies looks through some wire shelving on Thursday, May 11, 2017. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette 

And in Prescott, Ariz., in April 2009, great horned owls were raising their young at two home improvement stores and on the side of the Yavapai County Courthouse.

"They're fun to look at," Garcia said. "You just have to be careful."

Indeed, a great horned owl can extend its talons to 4-by-8 inches, the Nature Conservancy reports. "It is wise to stay away from young owls and their nests as great horned owls are not afraid to attack if they feel their family is threatened."

Susan Dolan and other Lowe's customers snap photos of urban wildlife at the Lowe's on N. Nevada Ave. on Thursday, May 11, 2017. A Great Horned Owl made her nest in the outdoor gardening area this Spring. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette 

So the ice-melt package is clearly labeled: DO NOT TOUCH. OWLS. It's not only a warning; it's also a law. Although not endangered, great horned owls - and all other owls - are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits the capture, killing or possession of them without a special permit.

Lowe's staff members first spotted the owl eggs months ago and immediately contacted Colorado Parks and Wildlife as well as the nearby Wild Bird Center.

"They did everything right," said Tara O'Brien, manager of the wild bird supply store.

"We've been watching them for the last month," said Lowe's customer Judith Daley. "She's a smart mama; she got them out of our late wet snowstorms. The mom's been catching rabbits. The employees have been watching her bring them in."

Jasmine Silva said she came to the store "to see flowers for Mother's Day and saw all these ladies and the excitement."

Mallory Zeidler asked her 2-year-old son Ryan: "What do the birds say?"

"Whoo! Whoo!" the boy replied, pointing toward the owl nest.

"This is our third time being here," Zeidler said. "We just come to see the birds."

Mother and son nonetheless had some plants in their shopping cart. Garcia said he couldn't quantify the uptick in business, but, "the customer traffic is helping, sure."

Shelli Brunswick said she returned to the store because the owlets are getting big so quickly. "I wanted to see them again because I'm going on vacation tomorrow."

Thursday, while one of the owlets remained on the ice-melt pallet, a second youngster wandered across the shelf, staring intensely at all the awestruck observers.

"I've been working as a naturalist for years, and it's so hard to get people out into the parks," Daley said. "But I've seen dozens of people here watching them."

Those looky-loos are deriving psychological benefits, ranging from wonder and awe to spiritual fulfillment and a sense of well-being, reports Where is the Wildlife.

"Wildlife viewing is essential for well-being. Period," WWL declares. "It always has been and always will be."

For now at least, shoppers at the University Village Colorado Lowe's can pick up something much more meaningful than that pot of geraniums.

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