The Forest in February: Breeding Owls
As people prepare to celebrate Valentine’s Day this month, some of our forest friends also have courtship on their minds. February is the start of the courtship and breeding season for several owl species native to Black Rock Forest.
The most visible owl at the Forest is the Barred Owl, or Strix varia. While courting, the male and female sit close to one another and engage in a series of head-bobbing and bowing behaviors, along with wing raises, to show their interest in their potential mate. In addition, the pair will call back and forth within close proximity to one another. Audubon has a great recording of a breeding barred owl pair here. Barred owls prefer to nest in natural cavities of trees, but will also adopt abandoned hawk nests to raise their young. Scientists believe that barred owls, like many bird species, mate for life.
One of the most well-known species by appearance, the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), also breeds in the winter. Great Horned Owls, however, begin their courtship in January and by February are incubating their eggs on a nest. The female is solely responsible for nest building and incubation, while the male defends their territory and provides food to his mate. Great Horned Owls adopt the nests of other large predatory birds and will make improvements to the nest by re-lining it with shreds of bark, leaves, their own down feathers, and fur and feathers from their prey.
Before the beginning of spring both Great Horned Owl and Barred Owl chicks will have hatched, and both parents work together to raise their offspring. Chicks stay with their parents throughout the spring and summer and often disperse as winter approaches.