Jan 10 2011

First to Nest

Published by at 7:10 am under Birds of Prey,Nesting & Courtship


Believe it or not, Spring is on its way.  Chuck Tague found a great horned owl nesting last week at Merritt Island, Florida. 

You’re probably thinking, “Of course owls nest in Florida in January.  It’s warm there.”  But these birds are more versatile than you think. 

Great horned owls are the first birds to nest in Pennsylvania each year.  They start courting in late fall and become really intense in December and January when you often hear them hooting in the woods and suburbs.  By February they’ve chosen a nest site and the female lays her eggs. 

Nest site selection is almost amusing.  In Pennsylvania great horned owls often choose the tops of broken-off hollow trees but they also like stick nests, though they never build their own.  Instead they usurp an old red-tailed hawk nest or, in this case, an osprey nest.  No contest.  The original owners are gone.  Even if present they wouldn’t tangle with this lady!  

And yes, that’s the female’s telltale “horns” sticking up.  She does all the incubation. 

Their secret to winter nesting success is that the female keeps the eggs at a constant 98.6oF even when it’s -27oF outside.  She closely incubates the eggs for 30-37 days while her mate does all the hunting.  He brings her food at night.

So keep your eyes and ears open for great horned owl activity this month.  You might find out where they plan to nest, but don’t get too close.  You won’t want to tangle with Mama!

(photo by Chuck Tague)

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “First to Nest”

  1. Steve Tironeon 10 Jan 2011 at 9:10 am

    They are definitely active this month. I heard one this morning hooting quite adamantly, and have heard them at night — I think they like the pines in my neighbor’s yard. I also spotted one last week flying into the trees as I was leaving work. Of course I had to track him down, and it turned out there were two in the trees there, perhaps a mating pair.

  2. Marie Ruston 10 Jan 2011 at 10:38 am

    Outstanding! I am headed down to Merritt Island in March to visit my grandma. Any way to find out where this nest is? I would love to photograph the youngins. If you know but don’t want to broadcast it, you can link to my website and send me an email.

  3. Kate St. Johnon 10 Jan 2011 at 10:44 am

    I don’t know, but you can contact Chuck Tague privately via this page on his website:
    http://web.me.com/kingrail/Natureobserver/About_Chuck_Tague.html

  4. Bill Parkeron 10 Jan 2011 at 12:34 pm

    This is a Florida Time Share – if the Great Horned Owl vacates in time for the Osprey’s return. How many weeks has the owl reserved?

  5. Mary Ann Pikeon 10 Jan 2011 at 12:34 pm

    There is a stick nest atop an electrical pole along Interstate 79 north of Pittsburgh, looks just like the nest in the picture….I’m assuming it’s an osprey nest (could it be an eagle? or maybe it’s just a hawk of some type). I have been eagerly watching it every time we drive to Erie to see if I can see any birds in it…nothing yet.

  6. barbaraon 10 Jan 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Wasn’t sure of their nesting time — thanks for cluing me in. Will start listening for their sounds in the woods at night — barbara

  7. John Englishon 11 Jan 2011 at 2:38 pm

    In our area the great horned owls start to nest at the same time skunks start to breed. If you’ve ever had the chance so smell a great horned’s breath you’ll know that skunks are a major food source for them. Talk about bad breath!!! The owlets will start to hatch at about the same time as new skunks are born. Isn’t nature wonderful :-)

    Akela

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