I was surprised to learn that female Great Horned Owls can produce an egg as soon as one day after copulation. Today 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.
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.