Thursday, February 25, 2016

Farm Bulletin: The Great Horned Owl Watch Begins

Every year as winter transitions to spring at Ayers Creek Farm, contributor Anthony Boutard and his wife Carol scan the skies and listen for the sound of the farm's pair of great horned owls beginning their courtship ritual. In a stand of evergreens a few hundred yards from the farmhouse is a broken snag where for years the owls have raised their young. In his own ritual, Anthony sets up his tripod and binoculars and watches as they lay their eggs and raise their young.

Announcing the reproductive effort of a bird presents a dilemna. Is it when the egg is laid, or when it hatches? For us, it is easier to announce the laying of the egg. We knew it was coming given a couple of days of the seasonal courtship palaver. Last night, our great horned owl hen (above center, barely visible) laid her first egg and has settled down for almost two months on the nest. The next egg will follow in a few days. A third is possible, but most years there are just two hatchlings that emerge. The first chick will hatch in about 28 days [from Feb. 21st].

Her mate—they are monogamous and mate for the long term—will feed her for the first month and a half, or until the chicks have grown enough that they can be left unattended. The two birds communicate regularly and have different voice. During this vigil, the male hunts in our oak savannah. As the chicks grow and need more food, he will roost and hunt in a grove of ash trees about a half-mile away. The female will take over the hunting in the savannah.

The laying of the egg happens in February, but the day varies every year. In 2012 on the 15th, 2013 on the 14th, and in 2014 it was on the first and 2015 on the 13th. Pretty late this year.


Lynne said...

What is it about owls that is so entrancing. Even just hearing their call from the cottonwoods behind my house enchants me. How wonderful to witness this event!

Kathleen Bauer said...

I love to hear their haunting calls at night. It's wonderful that they nested in a snag that faces the house, making it easy to observe them, yet give them their privacy. Can't wait to hear how many hatch!