Step into the night chill and listen closely enough, and you might catch a gray horned owl. Just follow the "hoot, hoot, hoot hoot" sound.
“Owls are very active this time of year and you can hear them quite often if you are patient enough to brave the cold on a winters evening,” said Trumbull Park Ranger Mark Ceneri. “I hear them on a nightly basis this time of year.”
Believe it or not, this is the breeding season for GHOs. Amid all this snow and cold, GHOs have been feeling the love (maybe it's a Valentine’s Day thing) and nesting.
In fact, that is what they are doing by hooting in the evenings: males are hooting to females, and vice versa. Some believe that these owls actually mate for life, which can be up to 30 years. After a period of ritual courting they nest in hollows of trees or old squirrel or hawks nests. GHOs can often be found nesting in the crooks of dense fir trees.
Up to five eggs are laid and subsequently hatch after a month-long incubation period. After six or seven weeks the owlets begin to “branch” and venture out of the nest to see the world.
This branching period is the best time to try to catch a glimpse of these magnificent young creatures.
“Good places are dense groves of conifers which offer good shelter,” suggested Ceneri, “and anywhere there is an open meadow environment where they would be hunting during the night hours.” Local areas such as Trumbull’s and the old Tashua Tree Farm are popular great horned owl nesting sites.
Simply wandering around looking up for nests generally only results in an aching neck. For serious folks hoping to see a GHO nest, you need to know the signs.
“Look for owl pellets at the bases of trees to find out where they like to roost and then try to listen for them at night,” said the park ranger. “Dress warmly and head out, things get active just after sunset.”
Owl pellets are the undigested bits that the raptor regurgitates from time to time and looks like an oval mass of fur and bones. GHOs eat a wide variety of rodents and amphibians and their favorite critter to dine on is surprisingly the skunk. Clearly, the olfactory sense is not the strongest trait of the GHO.
Raptors of all varieties keep the rodent population in control and can be encouraged to nest nearby by constructing a platform. The Owl Pages Web site gives instructions for building this feature since GHOs are not attracted to owl boxes like a Screech or Barn Owl.
Use caution when considering attracting owls to your yard. GHOs defend their nest to the fullest extent, will feed on household pets and no owlet wants to jump off a tree into a fenced-in yard with curious canines.
For directions on building a Great Horned Owl platform visit: http://www.owlpages.com/links.php?cat=Owls-Nest+Boxes.
To hear Great Horned Owl vocalizations go to http://www.owlpages.com/sounds.php.