Christina: This is probably some sort of pre-egg laying activitiy that the owls are currently doing as a part of their courtship. I have compiled a lot of data on the nesting of GH Owls in the St. Louis area. The earliest I have observed fresh eggs is Jan. 28 through anout Feb. 4. They are the first birds to nest but I believe it is a little too early for them to have eggs in December.
Good luck.
Dave Pierce
St. Louis County

On Tue, Dec 22, 2009 at 11:20 PM, Christina McClarren <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Dear all - what do you all think:

I have continued to check on the pair of Great Horned Owls in Tower Grove Park (very unobtrusively) at least 3 times a week all Fall/Winter.  I've a long record of their activities I will not bore anyone with but I was curious if anyone thought, based on the following, that the female might be sitting on eggs already.

I arrived at approximately 4:20 PM today and stood on the field just southwest of the nesting tree to listen for hooting from the three conifer patches that I often find them in.  The male started hooting from the conifers near the Stone Shelter.

Walking over and standing across the street from where he was hooting, I did not attempt to find him, as I felt it would be too disruptive.  They seem to stop hooting if stared at.  I guess I would, too.  I enjoyed him hooting by himself for about 10 minutes.  I knew which tree he was in by his hooting.  The female was not answering him.  (She'd stopped doing this some days ago - answering him right away.  Prior to that, they were almost always together in the same tree for weeks on end - and when one would hoot, they other would soon follow.)   I knew he'd probably fly soon, as he did the other night at dusk.  Sure enough, he flew over east to the conifers across from the nesting tree.

There he hooted for about 10 more minutes with no answer from the female.  I carefully walked to the east side of the area, where I could see him perched from a distance - and where I could watch the nesting tree.  What to my surprise appeared out of the nesting tree?  The female.  She peered out, then hopped to the closest branch of the tree, peered over at him and then flew toward and beyond him to a tree about 200 feet south of him.  He flew over and joined her, but on the opposite side of the tree.

They began their duet, often overlapping each other with their calls.  She flew to his branch, sat right next to him and continued hooting with him, then moved up a tiny bit away on an upper branch and continued hooting.  Finally, she flew back toward the nesting tree and re-entered it!  He followed her and fly toward the nesting tree but stopped to perch on a snag across from it - as close as he could get to the nesting tree.  This snag put him in a position of almost being on a balcony, peering down at her in the nest - a bit of a reverse Romeo and Juliet thing. He hooted from there very loud and beautifully.  She did not answer.

Just then, two people came walking by with a dog as I was watching to see what he would do.  They interrupted me to ask about the owls (they were a couple that had been keenly interested in their welfare in the Spring - and had met me then due to my owl reconnoitering).  They informed me that the rangers had told them the owls were at the other end of the park.  I kept my eyes on the male as I told them, "Oh, contraire!"

Unfortunately, I took my off of the male for a second as they asked another question.  When I looked back, he'd flown.  I knew he hadn't flown to the nesting tree because I looked back quickly.  The Great Horneds have never, in my experience, flown straight into the hole.  They always perch on the branch right outside it or on the edge of the hole before they enter.  I would have seen him if he'd perched and peered in.  I imagine he did what he did the night before - took off to hunt in the Missouri Botanical Gardens.

I drove away not long after this - at 5: 30PM.  For some reason, I decided to come back and watch the nesting tree a little longer.  I was gone for 5 minutes before returning.  I watched the tree for about an hour more and left around 6:30PM. I saw no more activity.

I have no idea if she is currently sitting on eggs or what, but it would seem so.  This seems too early to me, based on certain info from a friend:

1. Her book says the nesting dates are highly variable, depending on how cold the
previous winter was.  They nest earlier after a warmer winter and later after a
cold winter.

2. The gestation period is about 30 days.  Incubation is 30-37 days.

3.  Last year a regular to the park (and avid owler) first heard the owl babies on Feb. 23 screeching for food.  Prior to that the Mom was seen on the nest on Feb.19 and for the previous month or so.  On Feb. 20 both parents were in the pine trees.  I had my first sighting of the babies in the nesting hole around March 6.

4. So, the way I figure, if they were to repeat their last year's performance,
the female would lay the eggs in mid-January.  So, what is this that I witnessed today?

What do others think?

It has disturbed me greatly that they put in two new walking paths right in front of the owl's nesting tree.  TGP is still doing a lot of work on these paths.  Maybe they don't want to admit they are disturbing the owls and so are telling people the owls are at the other end of the park. I have no idea why the rangers would say such a thing to this couple. I am going to inform John Karel, the director, that the owls are indeed still there!

Oh, and I want to add my profuse thanks for the Sandhill Crane sighting info.  It was a joy to watch the young one with folks on Sunday afternoon.  It was a delight to return again the next day to see the youngin with my ma and run into Paul Bauer that Winter Solstice afternoon, which happened to be Paul's 77th Birthday - and give him two big hugs!  Congrats again, Paul!

Upon leaving Howell Island that day, I saw a Kestrel fly into a field and made a quick U-turn that made my ma grab for that thingamajig on the ceiling of the car to hang onto.  When we got out and were able to see the Kestrel through the scope in all its amazing glory up close, I think she forgave me my lunatic driving.

Thanks,
Chris McClarren
St. Louis South City
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D. Pierce
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