In many ways, winter is an ideal time to be a Great-horned Owl. For starters, it is a season of long cold nights. The midwinter days qualify only as brief spells between the periods of darkness. For a nocturnal beast, this alone must be the closest thing to a dream state. Add to this scenario a cover of white snow to backlight your potential prey, and the inception of the mating season, and you have an owl nirvana of sorts. Like a country gentleman in a bucolic setting of rolling wheat fields and fat cattle, the winter owl is at the peak of his game. This is the owl season.
Conversely, winter is a season of terror and discomfort for rabbits and mice – probably dubbed, within their silent thoughts, as the season of gnashing teeth and silent death. Now that I think about it, these unfortunates don’t really have a good season. Every thing eats them all the time. This is why one doesn’t often encounter sleeping bunnies.
I encountered a sleeping Great-horned Owl the other day which caused me to reflect a bit on his state of mind. The bird was sound asleep and took absolutely no notice of my approach (or departure). The previous evening had been a bitterly cold one and the mid-morning temperature was only 21 degrees F. with no promise of rising any further. But, surrounded as he was in a dense coat of down I doubt he was feeling the chill. Even though he was quite exposed, the day was windless and he was facing the lightly veiled warmth of the morning sun.
Every Great-horned Owl becomes a great sleeping owl after the sun rises. These flying tigers rule the darkness, but all their predatory advantages go out the figurative window in the limelight of day. So after a hard days night an owl needs this down time to reflect upon his “owlness.” I do wonder what owls dream about. Looking into the closed eyes of this bird, I believe I can offer a crude human guess.
Certainly, there are thoughts of prey. If we go by the average prey percentages, this bird was probably thinking about rabbits, squirrels, mice, and pheasants (in that order). Mammals make up the bulk of the prey of this large owl with birds taking up the slack. I’d imagine visions of deliciously fat and painfully slow moving rabbits clumsily hopping over wide open fields and bite-sized meadow voles lined up in buffet trays. Perhaps a few gifted birds might imagine deadly laser rays shooting from their eyes but we’ll never know.
Thoughts of “romance,” the stuff of all dreams, were likely swirling about that tiny brain as well (yes, contrary to their reputation, owls have relatively small brains for their size). I’m sure even the lice living within the owl’s feathers have simple flip-book dreams about other lice, so an advance vertebrate would be spineless not to have full color dreams about romance. Winter is the mating season for Great-horned Owls. They are now establishing pair bonds and will be nesting by the middle of next month. Given the location of this bird, it is no stretch to believe that this is one half of the pair that habitually nests in the cottonwood cavities of the nearby marsh. That great-horns remember their birthing sites is well established. Cavity reared birds will make every effort to nest in cavities while tree nest birds will seek open tree nests. Are there visions of spacious tree holes floating about among those corpulent bunnies? Who knows. Whooooooooooooooo knows!