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Mating Season for Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls - Facinating Predators

The great horned owl is the first wild bird to start the mating cycle for the new year. Now (early January) is the middle of a mating season that starts in mid-December and peaks in mid-January (in the southeastern US). Listen for four to seven hoots, like "hoo, hoo-hoo, HOO, HOO." Or, if you hear or see frantic activity of crows, chances are, they are after a great horned owl.

Great horned owls have an amazing habitat, ranging from Mexico, through out the U.S, Canada and Alaska. You'll find them in forests, deserts, swamps, and even city parks, from time to time.

The great horned owl is aptly named - it's huge, measuring up to 25 inches high with an impressive wingspan of 55 inches! It has a voracious appetite, and is quite willing to make a meal out of critters larger than itself. It has been know to kill geese and even wild turkeys. Its favorite delicacy, however, is a fat, juicy skunk. Yes, really. While I have nothing against skunks, they are predators of ground-nesting birds.

Great horned owls lay two to three dull white eggs that hatch about a month after being laid. They will start leaving the nest a month after that. The nests in the eastern U.S. are usually appropriated from other birds, such as eagles, hawks, and crows.

Not long ago, I had a personal encounter with a great horned owl that was being rehabilitated. I was photographing it in a long flight cage which gave the bird an opportunity to test its wings. It was in one end, and I was in the other. The glowing, wide-spaced yellow eyes never left me, and I had the distinct feeling that he was sizing me up for a snack.

Be alert this time of year for the "Hoo Hoo" or crow activity to alert you to the presence of this magnificent, yet elusive, bird.