A video has been making its way around the web of a great horned owl 'going for a swim' in Chicago’s Lake Michigan ... but like many videos that feature bizarre animal behaviours, this one isn’t quite what it seems.  

Despite claims that this behaviour is unusual, all owls can 'swim' for short distances in an emergency (watch a tawny owl row to shore in Wildlife SOS!). "This bird is definitely in distress,” says Louise Shimmel, executive director of the Cascades Raptor Center. Owls do bathe their outer-most feathers from time to time, but their feathers are actually less water-resistant than those of many other birds – so although they can swim when forced to, it’s not something they would ever choose to do voluntarily.

The owl was reportedly forced into the lake by peregrine falcons, which according to Shimmel is very possible. "Great horned owls get 'mobbed' by lots of different species including corvids (like crows) and smaller birds, and definitely falcons – peregrines are very fierce," she says.

Great horned owls will hunt just about anything that moves, making them a big threat to territorial birds like falcons. But they are most active at night … so just why this owl was out and about in the daylight remains a mystery. 

"They do sometimes hunt at dusk or dawn," says Shimmel. "But these birds learn very early on that they need to be under cover once the sun comes up – so it’s very possible that the bird was already in distress or had been hazed from its roost before the falcons came down." 

Whatever the reason for the daytime excursion, the super-soaked owl luckily made a full recovery ... after some seriously grumpy air-drying on the beach. 

 Top header image: Peter Moore/Flickr

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