ROGERS PARK — A small group of bird watchers and metal-detector hobbyists helped rescue a Great Horned Owl Sunday from Lake Michigan after a pair of attacking Peregrine Falcons drove it into the frigid waters.
Photographer Krzysztof Kurylowicz, of Park Ridge, captured the Sunday morning drama in a series of photographs with his digital camera and telephoto lens.
Then he posted the shots to his Facebook page, where they were shared widely in the birding community.
"It was kind of a drama," Kurylowicz said. "It was one of my best birding days this fall."
Kurylowicz, a 51-year-old native of Poland, said as usual on Sundays he made a stop at Loyola Park after visiting the bird sanctuary at Montrose Beach in Uptown.
As he stepped out of his car about 10:30 a.m. at the Loyola Park field house, the first thing he noticed was a murder of crows "cawing like hell" in a tree.
In the birding world, the crows' behavior usually indicates a nearby predator, which the crows are trying to intimidate and push away, Kurylowicz said.
Minutes later, he said he saw a Great Horned Owl take flight from the tree — while a pair of Peregrine Falcons circled above.
Bearing talons, the raptors dove and struck the owl, driving it into Lake Michigan.
Kurylowicz said he and three others — a mix of bird watchers and metal-detector hobbyists — rushed to the owl's aid, standing nearby as the nocturnal bird as it made its way back to shore.
The human presence was enough to keep the falcons, who had taken to a nearby light pole, at bay while the owl — "cold, wet and shaken" — dried off, Kurylowicz said.
But the falcons swooped in again and the owl ended up back in the water. Another photographer, Steve Spitzer, captured the owl using its wings to swim at the beach.
Again, the onlookers rallied to shield the owl, which made it back to shore and eventually dried off enough to make it into a nearby tree at the edge of the park.
Kurylowicz said shortly after the bigger female falcon flew away north toward Evanston. The male also lost interest, and took flight north.
Annette Prince, the director of the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors program, said her volunteers were called to the beach to help the owl if it wasn't able to fly away.
But about an hour after the incident began, the owl seemed able to fly another day.
"Two of our volunteers arrived at the beach and saw the owl able to fly off to a tree where it continued to dry out," Prince said in an email. "Luckily Sunday was a warmer day. We got no further calls and hope the bird is doing well."
Kurylowicz said in his years watching birds he had seen falcons attack other fowl — but never a Great Horned Owl.
"Falcons are opportunists," said Kurylowicz. "If they have a chance to attack and kill something that’s big and tasty, they will do that. It’s their normal way; it’s nothing unusual.
"But it’s unusual that it happened in front of our eyes."
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