The Earliest Nest

Great horned owl using an osprey nest on Merritt Island, 4 Jan 2011 (photo by Chuck Tague)

15 January 2024

Great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) never build a nest. Instead they take over a large stick nest that someone else built — that of a red-tailed hawk, osprey or bald eagle. Ideally the original owner is not present at the time, which is usually the case because great horned owls are the earliest to nest(*).

In Pennsylvania they claim a nest as early as mid December and lay eggs as early as 22 January. By the time the original owner discovers the owls in residence, it’s usually too late to make a fuss. Great horned owls are powerful and attack silently at night.

There’s an old bald eagle nest on camera at the Hilton Head Island Land Trust which eagles have not reclaimed since they lost two eaglets there. Instead a pair of great horned owls took over the nest and the female is already incubating two eggs.

Watch the nest on the Hilton Head Island Land Trust Raptorcam. Follow their latest news on Hilton Head Island Land Trust’s Facebook page.

Screenshots of great horned owl nest at Hilton Head Island Land Trust, 15 Jan 2024 during the 6 o’clock hour

Three years ago our own Hays eagles had a great horned owl problem. Here’s a trip down memory lane:

In February and March 2021 a great horned owl harassed the Hays bald eagles, apparently trying to chase them away even after they were incubating eggs. The owl went so far as to silently knock the male eagle off his roost on the night of 2 March! In the end the Hays eagles prevailed.

(*) There’s only one bird in Pennsylvania that nests earlier than a great horned owl and that’s because it nests 365 days a year (or 366 during this leap year). Click here to see who it is.

p.s. Thanks to Mary DeVaughn for sending me news of the HHI Raptorcam.

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