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Great Horned Owls Courting & Mating

Great Horned Owls are one of the earliest species of birds to breed in the Northeast. Their intense hooting begins in late December or early January, about a month before actual mating takes place. Males call during most seasons of the year, but the period when the males are hooting vigorously lasts for a month or six weeks. During the mating season the deep, rich tones of the males are occasionally interspersed with the higher and huskier notes of the females. The answering calls of the females are typically heard for only a week or two, toward the end of the six-week period.

Eventually, when a male and female approach each other, they do a sort of courtship “dance.” The male cocks his tail, swells his white bib (see photo), and with much bobbing and jerking utters a series of deep sonorous calls that elicit calling responses by the female. He cautiously approaches the female, continuing much tail-bobbing and posturing. The owls nod, bow, and spread their wings as well as shake their heads. Courting pairs have been observed engaging in high-pitched giggling, screaming, and bill-snapping. Mutual bill rubbing and preening also occurs. Copulation concludes the courtship ritual, with both owls hooting at a rate of 4 or 5 hoots per second throughout copulation, which lasts 4 – 7 seconds.

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6 responses

  1. Alice

    Such a beautiful feather pattern and coloring. It’s been a hoot-less winter, so far. I love listening to their dueting at night.

    February 5, 2020 at 6:37 am

  2. Sally

    What a happy story to read this morning. Thank you !

    February 5, 2020 at 7:44 am

  3. Cheron barton

    Bet you can hear this owl!! Right now!!👍🏼

    Sent from my iPhone


    February 5, 2020 at 11:09 am

  4. kathiefive

    Mary, what a beautiful portrait. That should be a calendar page!

    February 5, 2020 at 4:26 pm

  5. Lov the information in this post Mary!

    February 7, 2020 at 8:32 am

  6. Brian Macdonald

    I haven’t heard any hooting here in Londonderry, NH, but it’s great to know what owl it is if I do hear it. Thank you for another great post.

    February 8, 2020 at 11:14 am

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