Love is in the Air: Raptor Breeding Season Begins

Above: A Bald Eagle carrying nesting material. Photo Credit: Sue Ernisse

While many raptor species found in the Jackson Hole region have not yet returned from their wintering grounds, some species, like Bald Eagles and Great Horned Owls, have already started their breeding seasons! 

Bald Eagles are thought to mate for life and are known for their dramatic courtship displays, which include loud vocalizations and aerial maneuvers. One courtship display, called the “Cartwheel Display”, involves a pair flying up high, locking talons, and then tumbling down towards the ground.  In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Bald Eagles typically lay their eggs from early-March to mid-April. This month (February), Bald Eagles will be working on their huge stick nests, either building new ones or refurbishing old ones.  The largest Bald Eagle nest on record, located in St. Petersburg, Florida, was 2.9 m (9.5 ft) wide and 6.1 m (20 ft) tall! 

Great Horned Owls are another early-nesting raptor species. Their courtship involves hooting and posturing, with pairs duetting and bowing towards each other.  Sometimes pairs also engage in pair-bonding behaviors such as mutual preening and bill-rubbing. In southern parts of the U.S., Great Horned Owls may lay eggs as early as December! In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, egg laying begins later, typically mid-February to late March. Great Horned Owls do not build their own nests, instead using tree snags, cliffs or the abandoned nests of other large birds.  Tune into an eagle cam at the link below to watch live feed on a pair of eagles, maintained by Friends of Big Bear Valley and Big Bear Eagle Nest Cam in the San Bernardino National Forest of California. They post regular updates as well if you happen to miss an important moment in the saga of Jackie and Shadow!

Live Eagle Cam!

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