Outdoors: Owl romance

Mar 24, 2021

In countless musicals, romance seems to develop when the male and female leads join in a duet, which often evolves into a dance.

And the pair bond is formed.

That’s how it is for great horned and barred owls. too.

We tend to think of these avian "love duets" occurring in spring and early summer.

But for owls, the duets begin in February or March.

Those who spend time outside in winter may have heard the eerie hoots of male owls in the early evening or pre-dawn hours.

At first just the males hoot, presumably establishing territories, but by midwinter, the great horned male’s low hoot will be answered by the female’s slightly higher-pitched reply.

Barred owls also hoot, and the females join in the duet, but somewhat more quietly.

Once the males of both species sense that their advances will not be rejected, they approach their prospective mates and perform a number of dance moves, including wing spreading and head bobbing.

If the dancing pleases, a female allows a male to make a gradual approach, until they are duetting softly and perhaps even preening each other.

But this performance is about over.

Though it seems ridiculously early, owls probably already are sitting on eggs by now.

Snow and cold do not deter determined mothers during the month-long incubation period.

Researchers don’t know now much male barred owls help the females because they tend to nest in cavities of trees, but male great horned owls both feed and spell their mates.

And each time the male returns to the nest, before settling in to brood, he does a little song and dance.