Sunday, January 29, 2006

Q & A with John Blakeman with a postscript

photo by Cal Vornberger
My letter to John Blakeman:

Hi John,

Last December in an essay about GHOs you wrote:

"But if anyone sees a second great-horned in January or February, then things could get very interesting next winter."
Did you mean that those are the months it's likely for another bird to show up? Why would Jan or Feb be more propitious for mate-finding than April or July? And wouldn't the hormones that govern breeding season be running low by Jan or Feb, making it unlikely that any kind of pair formation would take place.

Here's JB's answer:

By January and February I meant that these were the last two months when mating typically occurs in GHOs. Most great-horned's are on eggs by the end of January or February. By March, pair bonding or mating is almost always over. As with red-tails, young, inexperienced new pairs can be very much off the normal mating and nesting time frames, but because GHOs take so much longer to both fledge and train their owlets, they have to start very early. Many great-horned's are sitting on eggs by Christmas. Others (at the northern Ohio, New York City latitude) will nest, as I mentioned, in January and even into February.
But I think mating or pair bonding occurs long before nesting, probably in October or November. Therefore, I don't see much chance that the current Central Park GHO is likely to nest this season. By now, a second bird should be present. And there is also the absence of any discovered nest. These big owls don't build nests. They merely expropriate existing big nests from the previous season, usually those of red-tailed hawks.
Right now, I'd say that this owl is likely to take up permanent, year-round residence in Central Park, with no mating or breeding attempts until a second owl is seen in the same area. I don't think that's likely until late next fall or early winter, and then only if a second owl of the opposite sex happens by. Because of the depredations of West Nile Virus upon great horned owls, there is not a large "floater" (young, yet-unpaired adult) population, so the chances of a new owl coming into Central Park and "hooking up" with the present one is small.
But of course, this is Central Park, and the things raptors do there don't always match what they do out in rural or wild areas.

John A. Blakeman

PS This is great info but possibly moot since the GHO has not been found for the last two days