Q&A with Zoey Greenberg Answering Owl Questions

November 02, 2021
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Zoey Greenberg Answers Some Questions

About the Great Horned Owl's Early Season Visits to the Hanover Eagles Nest


1) Is it likely that Liberty is back early and staying the night because she knows the owl has been in the nest? 

Zoey: This is certainly a good guess. Bald eagles are a territorial species and the threat of another pair of birds (owls or otherwise) usurping their nest is likely to incentivize them to stake their claim. Great horned owls pack a punch. They are one of the more aggressive raptor species and are unlikely to back down without a fight. Whether that ends up being a verbal or physical fight is up to the duelers themselves! 

2) Can the eagles tell that the owl has been in the nest? If so, how?

Zoey: The Hanover eagles are highly attuned to the specific conditions within the nest. Although eagles do not have a pronounced sense of smell, there are plenty of other ways they can determine if someone’s been snooping around their home, including listening and watching. We know the Hanover pair has been hanging out around the nest, so if the owls have been hooting or flying around the eagles are sure to know. They are also bound to notice misplaced sticks, new nest boles, and other alterations to the feng shui if they were created by an intruding pair. 

3) The Great Horned Owl has been calling out periodically when it has visited the nest, is there a reason for this behavior?

Zoey: Prior to breeding season, great horned owls vocalize for similar reasons as bald eagles — to signal territory and communicate with mates. Great horned owls don’t lay eggs until roughly late January. Therefore the owl vocalizations documented at the Hanover nest are likely communicative rather than a clue that the female owl is close to laying. We can teach ourselves about the meaning behind the owl hoots by paying attention to factors like volume, cadence, and if we catch it on camera, body language. Great horned owl territorial hoots have been described as "a distant foghorn" in series of 3-6 notes. While hooting, they keep their beak closed and lean forward with their tail pointed up. Mated pairs of great-horned owls sometimes synchronize their territorial hooting, called “duetting.” These songs begin 1-2 months before egg-laying and can last up to an hour! Great horned owls sometimes emit screams when defending their nest, but this usually occurs later in the season once the owlets have hatched. Like bald eagle pairs, owl pairs maintain their pair bonds by communicating with each other during courtship and the pre-breeding season. 

Do you have questions for Zoey? Comment below for a chance to have your questions answered!

Sources for Q&A

Artuso, C., C. S. Houston, D. G. Smith, and C. Rohner (2020). Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.grhowl.01 

Raptor Ecology Specialist - Zoey Greenberg
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