What Do Male Owls Do to Attract Female Owls?

February 15, 2024

Early each year, when snow still covers the ground and most migratory songbirds haven’t yet arrived, great horned owl pairs begin to form in Maine. The males stake out their territory by hooting and defending it, and the females lay one to three eggs over the course of 28 to 35 days. Once the eggs hatch, the male provides food for his mate and also guards their nest. Owls have powerful feet that are specially adapted for gripping and snatching prey, as well as sharp talons to pierce animal hides. They also have long ears to hear and a high metabolic rate to conserve energy.

Male owls use a variety of sounds, including hoots, caws and gurgles, to attract females. They also display their feathers and posture to show off and reinforce their territorial boundaries. Once a female responds to their calls, the pair engage in a courtship ritual. It includes tail-bobbing, posturing, bill rubbing and shaking of the head, as well as cocking of the wings and spreading of the tail. Males often offer prey animals to the female, which may be a way of demonstrating their ability to provide food. Copulation follows, and both owls typically hoot throughout the entire process.

Most owl species are monogamous, with a single mate for life, and this helps maximize breeding success. In years when predation rates are high, owls will sometimes opt-out of reproduction or reduce the number of eggs they produce.

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