As the moonlight shines down on the Great Horned Owls, hooting can be heard throughout the nesting site that they occupy. Deep clear tones are vocalized by the male, while higher and huskier tones are demonstrated by the female, who is much quieter than the male. These back and forth calls can last for minutes or hours at a time. You may have even heard these calls recently in your neck of the woods! Breeding season typically begins around January and lasts through February.
As the Great Horned Owls prepare their nest, they clear out old debris while lining it with a layer of their own downy breast feathers. The nest was built by a previous occupant, most likely an abandoned nest of hawks or crows. Some Great Horned Owls have even been known to nest in small caves, cliff ledges, or artificial nests built by humans!
The female’s role is crucial in ensuring her offsprings’ survival. She rarely leaves the nest during incubation for more than a few minutes at a time. Yet, the male plays an important role as well by offering protection and providing resources for its mate. Like most Great Horned Owls, the pair reconnects each breeding season and will continue to throughout their lifespan.
Over the next month or so, young owlets will begin to hatch. At around six weeks they will explore outside of the nest, walk across limbs, and “practice” flying. By 10-12 weeks they’ll learn to fly. The parents will continue to feed and care for their offspring for months after the young fledge. It is wise to stay away from young owls if you see them – parents guard their nests very closely and are not afraid to attack if they feel their family is being threatened! However, if you happen to find a young fledgling on the ground, please call your local Wildlife Rehabilitation Center right away for assistance. They will be able to determine whether the young owl needs further help. Rehabilitation Centers usually have tree climbers who volunteer their services to reunite raptors with their parents when appropriate.
– Alyssa Tarbox