Although the true scientific name of the Great-horned Owl is Bubo virginianus, I propose Hootus frigidus as the unscientific name for this species. Perhaps, by doing so, I am creating a whole new naming system that just may catch the naturalist world on fire. For every Latin/Greek scientific name there should be a totally unscientific pseudo-Latin one to balance it out. Sylvilagus floridanus, the cottontail rabbit’s name, would become Herecomus petercottontailus and Ondatra zibethicus, the muskrat, would be Monroeus we-eatus.
Now that I write this, however, I realize that this idea has already been forwarded by the Warner Brothers. Need I mention Wiley Coyote and the Roadrunner series? Are there any new ideas out there anymore? Well, never mind, let’s just forge on with my original statement regarding the Great-horned Owl. This bird not only deserves my newly proposed unscientific name but a new common one as well. It is more of a Snowy Owl than the Snowy Owl itself. How about Great Snowy Owl?
The reason for the above waste of type space is to again highlight (for I do it every few years) one of the most remarkable feats of the avian world. Great-horns nest in the middle of winter. They don’t wait until the sting of the season is past, no, they lay their fragile orbs of life (by this I mean eggs, of course) in the dead of winter. I would be the first to say that the term “dead of winter” is a well earned term. Things die in the winter. It’s is a time of survival and hanging by the cracking dry skin of one’s frozen teeth. Perhaps because they have no teeth to hang on by the skin of, both of our local owl pairs are now well into nesting. One of them is in a familiar spot.
A few blogs back I showed you an image of a male Great-horned perched complacently on a branch (Iwanta be-aloneia). I theorized that his mate, and her nest, would be close by. Since that time the nest, and the female in question, have been located. Her chosen spot is a large cavity within the broken stub of a huge decrepit Cottonwood. This is the same place that the couple chose two winters ago (we don’t know where they nested last year). Although Great-horns don’t normally nest in the same place more than once, they will if no new alternatives present themselves.
Mrs. G.H. Owl was on the nest, and presumably on her eggs, by the last week of January. A quick check of the weather history from Jan. 28- Feb. 3 reveals that the average temperature over that time span was about 17 degrees F! The thermometer never rose above freezing and it frequently dipped into the single digits. Add the “storm of the decade” into this mix and you have one of those winters in which the word “dead” has true meaning.
She has stuck to her task so far – enduring bitter winds and blankets of snow. If this owl followed the usual plan, she will have laid 2 or 3 round white eggs. They were laid a few days apart but she would have initiated incubation as soon as the first was laid. It is believed that most, if not all, of the incubation is performed by the female. Males don’t have brood pouches, those featherless belly spots used to warm the eggs, so there is little he can do in this regard. They may occasionally switch places, but his role is to gather food (capturing Snackus with-earus : aka rabbits).
Now you can see why I call them Great Snowy Owls. Even the real Snowy Owls don’t dare to nest in the heart of winter. You’ve got to look at Emperor Penguins to find a more extreme example of winter nesting. If all goes right, and it does 80% of the time, the first owlet will hatch out in the “tropical climate” of February and the rest will follow in the “steamy days” of early March.
Then, you might say that is when the real work begins. But I wouldn’t say such a thing directly into her face if you know what’s good for you.