Great horned owl chick

Winter can be a preferable month for Great horned own breeding because it can be easier to find and catch prey without the leaves on the trees.

Dear Naturalist,

A few weeks ago, I noticed owls hooting in my backyard. Now, I still hear them occasionally but not nearly as much as when they started. What is going on? — EHW, Boone


Both of the High Country’s large, hooting species of owls breed in the winter. Great horned owls and barred owls are both seeking mates, laying eggs and raising young — and it seems like a pair has chosen your backyard to do so!

The abundant hooting that you noticed a few weeks ago marked the beginning of the breeding season. The owls were establishing their territory and courting one another.

Winter could be a preferable month for breeding because it can be easier to find and catch prey without the leaves on the trees. Both the male and female will help raise their young by sharing prey items, which could consist of animals as small as mice and as large as skunks. It might be a good time to keep your housecat inside!

You will notice less and less hooting as spring and summer arrive. Owlets can do very little to protect themselves, so their parents won’t want to draw too much attention to the nest.

The brazen owlets will begin to leave the nest by crawling out onto nearby branches at five weeks old, but won’t begin to fly until about two and a half months old (mid-April). They might leave your backyard at that point, but will not leave their parents until the Fall.

In comparison, a bluebird chick will leave the nest and the care of its parents after only three weeks.

If you have a question concerning flora and fauna, please email All of your questions will be answered. One or two will be featured next week. See you on the trails!

Amy Renfranz is a Certified Naturalist through the Yellowstone Association Institute and a Certified Environmental Educator in the state of North Carolina.

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