Naturalist Corner: Megan and the Hooooting Great Horned Owls

Naturalist Megan helps us interpret the owl calls that we hear in the night.

During this time of year, it’s not odd to be hearing owl calls throughout the night, especially from great horned owls. These calls that you are hearing are mating calls from males trying to find the perfect mate. The great horned owls have a check list they need to follow to become successful mates and create offspring.

It all begins in October as the males start setting up their territories, looking for the right location to get a head start finding the perfect female. To attract a female, the male owls will hoot in a very common pattern with one long ‘hoooot’ followed by a couple of short hoots.  Once they have found their mate, the owls will continue to defend their territory from others and start creating a nest. Some owls will use abandoned nests that are on the larger side to allow them to create their own without having to do the set-up part.

Once January and February arrive the two owls will nest. Some say that’s too early for owls to nest, but it’s the perfect time for these raptors! Nesting early can come with some disadvantages including the COLD! Living in the Midwest we have many cold days in the winter with the temperatures going below zero very often. Both male and female great horns will stay on the nest for long periods of time and will switch so the other can take over. The eggs will not hatch if they become too cold, so that is why it is important to stay as warm as possible. Owls are larger birds so the reason they nest so early is because it takes longer for the young to grow and become mature, unlike song birds.  There is so much to learn from mom and dad; including flying and hunting skills that need much practice.

Now you know when you hear a great horned owl this time of year, that mating season has begun!

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