Monday: At 11:40 AM Pacific Time it was 32 degrees and snowing lightly. Shortly after noon the brooding female does some preening on her right flank, moves a few things around in the nest, apparently adjusting the four-egg clutch a bit, then nestles her brood patch back down over the eggs. Snow has stopped. About 1:40 PM she nestles down over the eggs again after preening some chest feathers, she’s facing of the hole toward the camera, her long, flexible tail bent up against the back of the nesting cavity. 2:30PM the wind and its noise intensify, a river of air rushing through the tree tops. The nest tree is swaying back and forth, the camera in and out of focus. 4:38 PM Female gives short series of “whoo-whoo-hoots;” winds is now stronger, a steady rustle of needles; Red-breasted Nuthatch honks nearby. She is sideways to the camera and some of her long chest feathers wave softly beneath the neck she doesn’t seem to have. 5:20PM First Ms gives a hoot series in her deeper voice, then a sequence of individual squeal notes at a much higher pitch…all while heavy snow falls past her, but she is protected by something above as none hits her back or feathers. 5:12 PM All snow all the time. Mom scrunched down over the eggs being kept at owl-body temperature. 5:27 PM Mom is off camera and the eggs, Cranes bugling in the background, nuthatch honking. Snow continues. 5:30 PM She returns, settles back over eggs. Did she get a vole from her mate? Local sapsucker being very vocal and sounding upset. 5:33 PM She still emits occasional squeal. Snow has almost stopped. She is facing toward the back left side of the nest cavity.
Following are some facts about the Great Gray Owl camera and its location in Montana’s mountains. I have spoken with Denver Holt who runs the Owl Research Institute there in Montana. Click here for link to their web-page. They have thirty years of owl research in the U.S. covering species from Northern Pygmy up to the big three–Great Horned, Great Gray and Snowy.
It is likely this is the third straight year this pair of GGOs have nested in this area. There is no lake nearby but there is a flooded meadow, hence the Canadas honking. This n-camera nest site is probably just normal detritus in the snag of a western larch. This is a deciduous conifer so it sheds millions of needles every fall providing lots of fodder to pad out a hollow snag.
The rest of the forest consists of lodgepole pine and Engelmann spruce. Nest elevation is around 5000 feet. The area has had a very cold and snowy winter. Many Great Horned Owls ended up as road kill because the only open areas to hunt were along highways. Many Long-eared Owls starved to death during the winter. All the local owls are late n nesting by abut two weeks or more, including Short-eared Owls. In researching our GGO book I found that some GGOs can starve down to a fraction of their normal weight and still survive. They are also quite hardy in extreme cold.
The primary prey for GGOs in that area: voles. That is what I saw the male deliver to the female last night.
Heard around the nest on Monday: flicker, robin, at noon a large dog barks nearby and further away Sandhill Cranes are bugling. Canada Geese have been heard again, as well. 12:20 PM, raven croaking nearby while Ms GGO sleeps. 12:22 PM it begins snowing lightly again. Around 1 PM a Red-breasted Nuthatch honks his little tin horn. About 1P:38 PM I can hear the rhythmic drumming of a sapsucker not far away, and then a Hairy Woodpecker flies onto the nest tree in the lower right hand corner of the frame and proceeds to huckle-buck up the trunk with Mrs. GGO watching casually. Robin sound recurs often though irregularly: song and whinny both, sometimes just alarm call. 2:20PM a crane flies past overhead, bugling as it goes. Bugling then continues from a fixed position at some distance. The cranes may be preparing to nest in some nearby meadow. 2:35 PM The nuthatch heard from again, beneath the sound of the wind currents through the forest. A robin chucks, a flicker fusses close by. 4:50 PM both nuthatch and flicker can be heard over the wind’s fluctuating whooshing through the trees. It’s 43 degrees. 4:58 PM A smattering of snow begins to drift down. By 5:06 it is a wind-driven snowfall heavy enough to portend a coming blizzard. By 5:08 it appears to be a mix of rain and snow, slanting down from the upper right corner of the screen. 6:02 PM a Hairy Woodpecker calls near the owl nest.
TAKE NOTE: Mr. Holt tells me it is likely the eggs will begin hatching sometime around the end of April. Don’t miss that!
Want to watch a video on Long-eared Owls? Check this out with Denver Holt checking on the wintering owls. It’s at the bottom of the web page.