Have You Heard Who, Who, Whooo is Dating??
Really? The great horned owl is feeling amorous in the frosty, freezing winter?? Yes, indeed this large, year-round resident owl is busy hustling and hooting up a storm, carrying out the earliest wild courtship in the region. If you are up at night, listen carefully and you might hear the “who, who, whoo” of great horned owls in your neighborhood. You can identify a courting pair of birds who are calling back and forth to each other, since each will have a slightly different tone to its voice.
In this case, the early bird takes the nest. Great horned owls are not construction engineers, and when they set up housekeeping, they simply claim an existing home site, such as a previously used red-tailed hawk’s nest or the top of a big tree snag. Any other animal that may have been sheltering there will leave immediately in search of neighbors with less predatory inclinations.
By the end of January, a pair of great horned owls will typically have two or three eggs in the nest that are approximately the size of chicken eggs. The little owlets hatch in the heart of winter, 32–35 days later. The noticeably larger female incubates the eggs and then carefully broods the babies to protect them from the sometimes frigid winter conditions. While she is busy with this work the male brings her gifts of food just as he did in courtship. Feeding a hungry family is a lot of work, but fortunately for the owl they are not picky eaters and happily consume the wide variety of prey animals he brings back to the nest. The winter menu consists of rats, mice, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and includes an occasional bleary eyed skunk that was nabbed just waking up from a winter nap.
The fuzzy young owlets grow quickly and typically tumble out of the nest around tax day. It takes them another few weeks of growing to resemble the adults and develop full flight capabilities. By the time the rest of nature catches up with these early birds, the teenage owlets are happily practicing their new, still clumsy, hunting skills!
Penny Borgman, Retired Naturalist, Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve
Learn more about owls at these upcoming programs:
Sharon Woods | Saturday, January 18, 3 p.m.
Whooo Goes There
Miami Whitewater Forest | Sunday, January 26, 1 p.m.
Nature Stories: Whooo’s There?
Sharon Woods | Tuesday, February 4, 11 a.m. & 1 p.m.
Woodland Mound | Thursday, February 6, 10 a.m.