Great Horned Owl Mating Season – Everything You Need To Know

The Great Horned Owl is a magnificent bird known for its distinctive features and remarkable abilities. Found across a wide range of habitats in the Americas, these owls have captivated people’s interest for years. Understanding their mating season offers insight into their lives and helps us appreciate these creatures better. During mating season, Great Horned Owls engage in fascinating behaviors that are crucial for their survival and the continuation of their species. This article delves into the details of their mating rituals, from courtship to raising their young, providing a clear and informative view of this significant phase in their life cycle.

The Mating Season of Great Horned Owls

When Do Great Horned Owls Mate?

Great Horned Owls have a special time each year for mating, usually starting in late winter. This period can begin as early as January and last through February. However, this timing isn’t the same everywhere. In different parts of North America, the timing can change a bit based on the climate and environment. For instance, in colder regions, they might start mating a bit later than in warmer areas. This adaptation ensures the owlets are born during a time when food is plentiful and conditions are favorable for their survival.

Mating Behaviors

During the mating season, Great Horned Owls display unique behaviors. They become more vocal, with males performing deep, resonant hooting to attract females. These calls can be heard over long distances, echoing through the night. The owls also engage in impressive aerial displays, with the males showing off their flying skills to impress potential mates. Another common behavior is mutual preening, where the owls groom each other, strengthening their bond. This period of courtship is crucial for forming a pair bond that will last through the nesting and raising of their young.

Do Great Horned Owls Mate for Life?

Great Horned Owls are fascinating when it comes to their relationships. They are mostly monogamous, which means they tend to have only one mate at a time. This pairing often lasts for many years, sometimes even for their entire lives. However, it’s not always ’till death do us part’ for these owls. In some cases, if one mate dies, the other might find a new partner.

Their relationships are more about practicality than romance. They come together primarily for breeding and raising their young. During this time, the pair works together efficiently. They share responsibilities like hunting, protecting their territory, and caring for their owlets. This teamwork is vital for the survival of their young and the continuation of their species. In the world of Great Horned Owls, staying together often means succeeding together in the wild.

Nesting and Incubation

Nesting Habits

Great Horned Owls are not big on building their own nests. Instead, they prefer to take over nests that were built by other large birds, like hawks or crows. Sometimes, they might even use squirrel nests, tree hollows, or rocky ledges. These borrowed homes are usually high up in trees, offering safety and a good view of the surrounding area. Great Horned Owls don’t add much to the existing structure, maybe just a few feathers for lining. Their choice of nests shows their practical nature, as they focus more on finding a secure place to raise their young rather than spending time and energy building a nest from scratch.

Egg Laying and Incubation

When it comes to laying eggs, the female Great Horned Owl typically lays two to three eggs, but sometimes as many as five. She starts incubating them as soon as the first egg is laid, which leads to the owlets hatching at different times. The incubation period lasts about 30 to 37 days. During this time, the female spends most of her time on the nest, keeping the eggs warm and protected. The male plays a crucial role too, as he is the primary provider of food for the female. This teamwork ensures that the eggs are well cared for and have the best chance of hatching successfully. The process of incubation is a critical time, demanding constant attention and care from both parents.

Raising the Young

From Eggs to Owlets

The journey from eggs to owlets for Great Horned Owls is a fascinating process. After the incubation period, which lasts about a month, the eggs begin to hatch. The hatching doesn’t happen all at once since the eggs were laid at different times. The first chick to hatch is, therefore, the oldest and often the biggest. These young owls, called owlets, are born blind and covered in a soft, downy white feather. In the early days, they are entirely dependent on their parents for warmth and food.

As days pass, the owlets start to develop quickly. Within a few weeks, their eyes open, and they begin to develop sharper vision. Their feathers start to grow, replacing the initial downy layer. These feathers are essential for protection and later, for flight. The parents are busy during this period, bringing food and ensuring the safety of their young. Another key milestone in their early life is when they start to move around the nest and flap their wings, preparing for the next big step – learning to fly.

Growth and Fledging

The growth of the owlets is rapid. By six weeks, they are already starting to look like their parents, though their flying skills are not yet fully developed. This period is crucial as they learn essential survival skills. The parents teach them by example, demonstrating hunting techniques and flying skills.

The fledging process begins around the 10th week. This is when the owlets start to take their first, often clumsy, flights. These initial flights are short and might include hopping and gliding from branch to branch. During this time, the parents continue to feed and watch over their young, guiding them as they refine their flying and hunting skills. Eventually, these young owls gain enough strength and skill to venture out on their own. However, they may still stay near their parents’ territory for some time before finally becoming independent. This transition from dependence to independence is critical for their survival in the wild. It marks the end of one phase of their life and the beginning of another, where they will one day find a mate and start the cycle anew.


The Great Horned Owl’s mating season is a remarkable period that showcases their unique behaviors and life cycle. From the early courtship rituals and monogamous pairings to the practicality of their nesting habits, each stage plays a vital role. The dedicated care in incubating eggs and raising the young highlights their commitment to the next generation. Understanding these aspects of their life helps us appreciate the complexity and beauty of these magnificent birds. As we learn more about them, we not only gain knowledge but also foster a deeper respect for these creatures and their place in the natural world.

Great Horned Owl Mating Season – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What time of year do Great Horned Owls breed?

Great Horned Owls typically start breeding in late winter, around January or February. This timing can vary depending on their location and local climate conditions.

How long do Great Horned Owls stay with their babies?

Great Horned Owls stay with their babies for quite a while. The parents care for their young for several months. The owlets begin to fly around 10 weeks old, but they often stay near their parents’ territory for additional support and learning until they’re fully independent.