Do Great Horned Owls copulate after the eggs are laid?

My husband just told me that a birding acquaintance of his told him a couple of years ago about watching a webcam set up on a Barn Owl nest. The camera showed that even after the pair’s eggs were laid, they copulated. The acquaintance, a woman, said that all the women who observed this said something to the effect of: that’s males for you! I mention this not to join in the chorus of complaints but because I said in the film I just posted about Great Horned Owls that they obviously don’t already have eggs because if they did, they wouldn’t be copulating now. They would agree with the ancient popes that sex is for reproduction. (One of my commenters observed that: “I presume the Owl Pope would approve that they’re not enjoying sex too much, with the quickest copulation imaginable.”) But suppose I was wrong about their sexual habits? Maybe they do already have eggs. Hmm.

I Just Filmed Great Horned Owls Mating!

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Great Horned Owl pair that nest in the woods behind our house aren’t close to hatching an egg. I know this because this afternoon I heard them calling to each other. I took my camcorder to the woods and … filmed them copulating! My husband saw them mate on December 27th, but the only egg they got out of that encounter, it seems, was the kind of goose egg they put up on baseball scoreboards. This year’s clock is ticking, but they are still trying. The male was excited about doing his duty. And the female was into it as well.

I’ll have a movie up soon.

Great Horned Owlet in our woods or not?

We haven’t been hearing the Great Horned Owls calling to each other in the woods behind our house. We know they mated on December 27th, and we hoped they’d nest in the Sycamore again, even though it sustained damage in last spring’s tornado. They were seen there in the snowstorm on January 5th. But not since. Then last night, as a severe cold front blew in, I heard them calling for more than an hour.

What does that mean? Huh?

Did they roost in the Sycamore or somewhere else nearby after all? Has the egg hatched? The female can lay an egg in one day and incubate it in 30 days, so it’s possible. It’s just possible that they now have offspring. If so, it (or they) got one harsh welcome to planet earth in last night’s wind and cold. I’ll be alert for their voices this evening, and if I hear them, I’ll figure the egg might well be hatched. Keep the little one(s) warm, Mama. This has been such a severe January.

Squirrel bent on destruction

While my husband is out of town, he stored the bird food outside in plastic bins to make it easier for me to feed the birds. A squirrel has–uh oh!–taken an interest in them. to keep the snow off, I have them covered with a drop cloth, which is held down by paint cans. The drop cloth is now full of holes the size of squirrel claws and teeth. He hasn’t started chewing on the bins yet that I’ve seen, but it won’t be long. I’m going to have to find somewhere else to store them.

There’s plenty of bird seed on the ground that he could eat, but … he’s a squirrel. The best I might call him is “scoundrel.” The worst is unprintable.

Great Horned Owlet on the way

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Nest site in fork of Sycamore tree

I was surprised to learn that female Great Horned Owls can produce an egg as soon as one day after copulation. ┬áToday is January 14th, so that could mean that the pair my husband observed in flagrante delicto on December 27th might not only have an egg or eggs but might be halfway through incubating them, since that process takes 30-37 days. Let me play obstetrician here and guess that the little ones are due on January 27th–which is as accurate an estimate as most human mothers-to-be get. Of course, the owlet might hatch in 37 days, February 1st. Or sometime later, depending on when the eggs were actually laid. Or sometime earlier in case they had copulated before December 27th. There’s a lot of information we’re not privy to, but this much we’re pretty sure of: they are using the same cavity.

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What’s left of their tree

If we keep a close eye on it, sometime in early February, we should be able to see the little ones poke their heads up and look around at the world. Last year, they had only one owlet. It’d be exciting to see any at all, but if only one little head peeks out at first, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the lone offspring for the year.

Great Horned Owls appropriate nests built by others–Red-tailed Hawks and squirrels, for example. But since those nest sites deteriorate by the time one breeding season ends, the owls don’t reuse it. A good cavity, however, that is another matter. The wonderful cavity they’ve been nesting in escaped destruction in the tornado that hit here last May 31st. The tree sustained massive damage. Everything above forty feet was wiped out–as were the nearby tall conifers that the owls used to roost in during the day to avoid being harassed by smaller birds. But a good cavity is nothing to sneeze at, and the neighbors who live nearest that Sycamore tell me that they’ve seen the owls in that tree. So presumably, the female is, as I type, hunkered down in that cavity in the fork of the Sycamore tree where they nested last year. I wonder if the baby is kicking yet.