Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Nesting Season Begins

Here we are in the middle of Winter with snow and ice all around. Most people would never think about hiking and exploring the woods to see what is new. That is more of a Spring, Summer, or Fall activity, yet now is the good time to observe the cycle of life that begins again.

Head out into your nearest woods and look into the fork of a tree for a big nest that you would think would be abandoned at this time of year. Or maybe try to find a big cavity or possibly a snag of a broken off tree. Take binoculars and look at it very closely. There just might be a Great Horned Owl or Barred Owl in it. Don't just assume that nothing is in the nest because it is covered with snow or ice. I have been staring at a nest covered in snow thinking that it is unoccupied when all of the sudden I realized that that are two dark eyes staring right back at me from the snow.

Late January is the beginning of nesting time for Great Horned Owls with Barred Owls following shortly after then. Now is one of the best times to observe both of these species. First while the owls are on the nest incubating the eggs and then during the fledging period that follows.

Great Horned Owls typically have a clutch size of 1-4 eggs with an incubation period of 26-35 days. Once hatched the owlets will be fully fledged about 5 -7 weeks later.

Barred Owls on the other hand typically have a clutch size of 2-3 eggs. Their incubation period is 28 -33 days with fledging coming about 6- 7 weeks later.

Great Horned Owls seem to prefer sites with a mix of mature deciduous and coniferous trees that are adjacent to waterways and open zones suitable for their hunting. The trees provide the owls with high, concealed day-time roosts and also potential nesting sites. The great horned owl does not, however, build its own nest. Instead, it typically appropriates a suitably sized nest from other owls, crows, hawks, herons, or eagles

Barred Owls prefer deep moist forests, wooded swamps, and woodlands near waterways. The habitat is sometimes characterized as heavy mature woods with nearby open country for foraging. These can vary from upland woods to lowland swamps usually near creeks, lakes or river valleys. The area should include densely foliated trees for daytime roosts, conifers or deciduous trees with year-round leaves for winter roosts, and the presence of large trees with suitable cavities for nesting. It prefers to use cavities for it's nest.

Always remember never get too close to the nest or the cavity or stay for a lengthy period of time. Like all nesting birds you do not want to make them too nervous and overstay your welcome. The best advice is to watch for a while, take note of the location and date, and return a few more times throughout the nesting and fledging period.
So if cabin fever is starting to affect you, don't fight it. Maybe that is just Mother Nature's way of telling you it is time to go out and explore!