Benefit from the hooting season | Lake County Nature

Submit by Jen Berlinghof

In February, sensational sunrises and sunsets break up the stark days and chilly, darkish nights of a waning winter. Daybreak and nightfall not solely carry the fun of coloration to a monochrome panorama, but in addition the perfect likelihood of listening to and seeing nocturnal raptors. Because the mercury drops, owl courtship heats up. Whereas many different birds head south for winter, owls pair up and hunker down. At night time, the soundtrack of our resident species’ hoots and hollers fills the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois, providing us a glimpse into an in any other case hidden world.

Winter is a time of snow, stunning sunrises and sunsets—and mating season for native owls. Photograph © John D. Kavc.

The great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is the biggest of our resident owls, and likewise the earliest fowl to kick off courtship and nesting in Lake County. As a result of owlets have a steep studying curve, spending months studying the specialty abilities of nighttime flying and looking, mother or father owls must get a head begin on breeding. Hooting duets echo by in any other case silent snowy evenings starting in December, as pair bonding begins for these monogamous birds.

Owls don’t construct their very own nests, however fairly get your hands on a “fixer higher”—an deserted crow or red-tailed hawk nest will do. So will a tree snag. Listening to the booming sounds of an amazing horned owl, after which seeing it swoop previous on silent wings, has been an indicator of many night occasions at Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods for me through the years. Nice horned owls will begin to calm down towards the tip of February as egg laying begins. (Try the archives of our Nature Cam for an in-depth take a look at nice horned owlets fledging.)

An adult great horned owl peeks over the top of its snow-dusted nest. Photo © Phil Hauck.
An grownup nice horned owl peeks excessive of its snow-dusted nest. Photograph © Phil Hauck.
Two great horned owlets peer out of a cavity in a tree snag. Photo © Phil Hauck.
Two nice horned owlets peer out of a cavity in a tree snag. Photograph © Phil Hauck.

Simply because the hooting subsides from the good horned owls, the brown-eyed barred owls (Strix varia) start to chime in. Whereas it’s attainable to listen to each owl species on the identical night, barred owls would possibly pipe down if nice horned owls are calling vigorously, provided that the bigger nice horned is a identified predator for the smaller barred. The good horned owl’s name is alleged to ask us, “Who’s awake? Me too!” whereas the barred owl calls, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”

Barred owls are keen on floodplain forests and may usually be seen feeding throughout the day. I as soon as watched in amazement as a barred owl slurped down a snake like a spaghetti noodle whereas I used to be taking my very own lunch break at Lakewood in Wauconda. Barred owls gravitate towards pure cavities in massive timber for nesting. Their younger can climb these timber in an effort to check out flying and to strengthen their wings. It’s fairly a sight to see fluffy owlets greedy the bark with their sharp payments and clinging on with dagger-like talons, all of the whereas flapping their wings as they shimmy up a tree.

An adult barred owl in spring. Photo © John D. Kavc.
An grownup barred owl in spring. Photograph © John D. Kavc.
An over-the-shoulder (or over-the-wing?) glance from a barred owl fledgling. Photo © Tim Elliott.
An over-the-shoulder (or over-the-wing?) look from a barred owl fledgling. Photograph © Tim Elliott.

Final however not least is the smallest of our native owls, the American robin-sized eastern screech owl (Megascops asio). Males return to a earlier yr’s breeding website first to reclaim their territory by roosting within the tree cavity and calling from close by branches, sometimes after the primary of the yr. Screech owl calls are vastly completely different from the baritone hoots of our bigger species. They’re composed of horse-like whinnies and mushy trills.

The feminine joins the male in late February or early March. They rejoice their reunion with mutual preening, bowing, clicking of payments and trilling in duet. Discovered in lots of areas, screech owls can nest anyplace they discover a tree with an outdated woodpecker gap or nest field. Nestling screech owls battle fiercely amongst themselves for meals, and generally even kill their smallest sibling. This habits isn’t unusual amongst raptors generally.

Any time I spy a gap in a tree, I all the time peek with my binoculars to see if I get fortunate and see a candy screech face nestled inside. In 20 years of working for the Forest Preserves, I solely hit this jackpot as soon as at Greenbelt in North Chicago. I proceed to look, hoping for one more encounter.

Two eastern screech owls perch on a branch. This species has gray and rufous (reddish-brown) morphs, or color phases. About a third of individuals are rufous. Stock photo.
Two jap screech owls perch on a department. This species has grey and rufous (reddish-brown) morphs, or coloration phases. A couple of third of people are rufous. Inventory photograph.

Owling takes actual effort. It takes bundling up and heading exterior into the blue-black chill of winter nights once you would possibly fairly be cuddled up inside close to a hearth. However the reward comes within the quiet glow of a winter sundown, the place the silence of the moonrise is cracked by the refrain of howling owls. Take pleasure in this winter surprise in your personal yard. Higher but, head out to the solar-lit trails at Old School in Mettawa and at Lakewood, open till 9 pm nightly by March 13. And should you’re in search of birdwatching alternatives this spring, mark your calendars for our FREE Birdwatching Hot Spots programs on March 19, April 23 and May 21. Places range every month. No registration required.

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