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Kentucky

February

The big heads and broad winged silhouettes make Great Horned owls easy to identify.

The landscape may look frozen and frosty, but love is in the air, literally, for Great Horned Owls. This time of year, many can be found at the Conservancy’s nature preserves in Kentucky. 

According to a recent article in Audubon Magazine, February is a prime time for when male Great Horned Owls hoot, swell their white bibs and bow around any females they can attract. If the male attracts a potential mate’s attention, they bow and hoot at each other. Many remain mates for life.

How romantic is that?

“Indeed, Great Horned owls nest all across Kentucky, from places like the Bad Branch Nature Preserve on Pine Mountain in the eastern reaches of the state to the Sally Brown Nature Preserve along the majestic cliffs of the Kentucky River Palisades in central Kentucky to Obion Creek and the Mississippi River floodplain bottomlands this time of year,” says Jeff Sole, the Conservancy’s Director of Conservation Programs in Kentucky.


Listen For Yourself: The Great Horned Owl’s advertisement call is a classic hoo – h’HOO – hoo – hoo. Want to hear it first-hand? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has it here.


While these nocturnal birds can be elusive, winter is an ideal time to try and spy them, while the leaves are gone from the deciduous trees. During this time, Great Horned owls take over abandoned hawk nests or tree cavities instead of starting nests from scratch. The best time for a sighting is during the pre-dawn and dusk hours. At the very least, it may be possible to hear the calls of courtship.  

“While Great Horned owls are a healthy and hardy species, they represent another reason why it’s important to protect chunks of forests with nice big cavity trees,” adds Sole. “Then the courting can begin.”

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