Even though it’s the middle of winter and seemingly too cold for such things, nature’s soap opera has been unfolding in my neighborhood. I tune in each night, quietly listening to catch the latest happenings. It started about a month ago while I was walking my pup. Across the field, I heard the soft hooting of an owl. I wasn’t surprised; a pair of great horned owls has been nesting in this area for at least the last four years. One year, I had the good fortune of seeing their young standing stoically on the white pine branches, glaring at me with their intense eyes. A different year, I saw the mated pair perched side-by-side near the top of a leaf-less tree. They were so close, they were touching and he would softly hoot to her and she would hoot back. Oh the romance!
I continued walking and heard the hooting again. I stopped, waited and listened. A different great horned owl responded, a higher pitched call from the female. If you listen to a dueting pair of great horned owls, the male’s hooting is lower than the female’s because his voice box is larger. Great horned owls call to each other as part of their courtship ritual, but soon they will be silent, incubating their eggs. They nest earlier in the year than any other Wisconsin bird.
The last couple of weeks, things have really been heating up even closer to my home with the appearance of another male great horned owl. This guy really has gusto, singing away in my backyard at all hours of the night, even at dawn. Finally, a receptive female answered his call! Persistence pays off.
It’s not just the great horned owls that are feeling amorous this time of year; red foxes are also pairing up. A few nights ago, one of our staff heard the barking calls of a red fox. Usually thought of as solitary animals, foxes are more social during the mating season. Like many new relationships, the male and female bond over affectionate play, spend time in close proximity to each other and constantly communicate. After an appropriate amount of time, they will retire to the den and the kits will be born about 50 days later.
Some songbirds have also been advertising their desire on nice days lately- cardinals, nuthatches, chickadees- even though it’s too early for them to nest. Down in Florida, however, spring is already underway, and bald eagles already have hatchlings in their nests.
Valentine’s Day may be more than a month away, but love is already in the air for many animals in our area. Soon, cupid’s arrow will hit other animals in the neighborhood and the plot of this soap opera will thicken!
The attached photo is a great horned owl and it’s young taken from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Digital Library.