'Tis owl season here on the farm. A blessing and a curse. If any of you know me, you know I have a love/hate relationship with them. We have had a pair nest here for at least the last 3 winters. They are Great Horned Owls and I have dubbed them Harold and Maude. The first year they had one baby and I named him Fuzzybutt. Last year I think there was only one as well, but I didn't get to see it much, just the day it flew away.
They are really pretty fascinating creatures. They breed in late January or early February and are often heard calling to each other regularly as early in the fall as October. They choose a mate by December and are often heard duetting before this time.
The male attracts the attention of his mate by hooting emphatically while leaning over (with the tail folded back) and puffing up his white throat to look like a ball. The female hoots back when the pair meet but is more subdued in both her hoot and display.
Pairs typically breed together year after year and may mate for life, although they associate with each other more loosely when their young become mostly independent. Like all owls, Great Horned Owls do not build their own nest. They often take over a nest used by some other large bird, sometimes adding feathers to line the nest but usually not much more.
This year I was fortunate enough to see them mate. It was interesting to hear their chatter during their interlude. Their eggs are shaped almost like a ping pong ball. Not quite perfectly round and there are typically 2 eggs in the clutch, sometimes more. The incubation period ranges from 28 to 37 days, averaging 33 days. The female alone does all the incubation and rarely moves from the nest, while the male owl captures food to bring to her. Brooding is almost continuous until the offspring are about 2 weeks old, after which it decreases. The male feeds both the female and the young for around 2 weeks after hatching. Young owls move onto nearby branches at 6 weeks and start to fly about a week later. However, the young are usually not competent fliers until they are about 10 to 12 weeks old. The offspring have still been seen begging for food in late October (5 months after leaving the nest) and most do not separate from their parents until right before they start to reproduce for the next clutch (usually December). Birds may not breed for another year or two, and are often vagrants ("floaters") until they establish their own territories.
This is Fuzzybutt in the tree at about 6 weeks old, I presume. I was able to get within touching distance of him, but he hissed at me. The next day he was gone. He had been hopping from branch to branch up until this point and then he took his maiden voyage to the trees back in our slough. He sat there all day that day and then went further West the next day. After that I never saw him.