Birds’ eggs…Two simple words that once heard conjure immediate thoughts of warm, sunny weather, cheerful whistling songs and industrious parents gathering food for hungry babies.
Certainly, birds incubating their eggs are far from our thoughts in December! For humans, this time of year brings to mind visions of snowy weather, cold temperatures and bundling up in thick layers of warm clothing. Our attention is taken up by the holiday season, visits with family and friends and a sense of another year drawing to its chilly close. For wildlife it means hibernation, moving to warmer climes or an often tough fight for survival weathering the cold right here in Ohio.
However, in the midst of this “season of silence,” one of Ohio’s largest birds is getting ready to start a family. Unlike many of their cousins, great horned owls prefer to claim old crow and hawk nests or utilize the open cavity at the top of a tree snag, rather than laying their eggs in the enclosed spaces of hollow trees.
They begin courting in late fall and by the end of January have produced eggs. While the female incubates the eggs (her insulating down feathers provide enough warmth to keep them at a toasty 98 degrees, even when the temperatures dip below zero!), the male will hunt, bringing food to the nest for his partner. After 30 days, the eggs hatch, introducing a new generation of owls to a cold and frosty world.
The owlets grow quickly thanks to a steady supply of prey provided by their parents, and within two months of hatching are capable of flight. Fledglings will remain near their nest site through the summer, with both parents continuing to feed their offspring sometimes through October. Then the young, by this time identical to the adults in appearance, will begin to strike out on their own.
Want to learn more about birds of prey? Come to our free Radical Raptors nature program at 3 p.m. on Saturday, January 3, 2015, at the Sharon Centre in Sharon Woods.
Angela Marczi, Naturalist, Sharon Woods