Early Nesters

10/24/2020 13:35

   Julie  Jansen 

Some birds just start early. Really early. Breeding season has begun for

a few species, even with a snowy landscape and frigid temperatures. Those deep “Morse codetype”

hoots of Great Horned Owls echoing across the hollow are all about courtship and pair

bonding. Great Horned Owls start up the breeding season as early as December. Barred Owls

start announcing themselves with their deep “who cooks for you” hoots a few weeks later and are

breeding by mid-January. Both the Barred Owl and the Great Horned Owl are well into their

domestic duties by January. Males generally find a territory by December and a nesting site by

January. Despite the cold, eggs are laid at the end of January through February, as this gives the

large bird’s chicks enough time to develop before spring arrives. Breeding season for

Eastern Screech Owl is generally around mid-April, but may range from mid-March to mid-

May. In February the males are seeking their mates out and have an elaborate courtship ritual.

Other birds can begin nesting early. Bald Eagles are rebuilding nests in winter and many will be

incubating eggs by the end of February. In Pennsylvania, most egg sets are laid between mid-February

and mid-March, with early March as the peak period. Eggs commonly hatch in April and

the young fledge by the end of June or in July. Bald eagles generally have a clutch of one to three

eggs with two the most common clutch size. Nest building and renovation may begin as early as

November or December in areas where eagles remain local through winter. This nesting activity

tends to occur later in areas where the snow and ice linger at higher elevations or in areas sheltered

from the sun.

Peregrine falcon nesting follows a similar pattern as well. Territorial defense and courtship begins

in January. The birds are seen flying together and circling their territory. Courtship intensifies

in February and early March and the birds are seen flying together more often. Males will

then present food to females and they will bow at the nest. Egg laying begins in mid-March or

earlier. An egg is laid every other day until the clutch is complete. Usually 3 to 5 eggs.

Although not as glamorous as owls and eagles, Rock Pigeons also are “in the mood” by January.

By February, another established exotic—the House Sparrow—also can be counted

among breeding species. They may not be glamorous, but it is interesting how these exotic species

have adapted to North America, and provide urbanites with birds to watch.Common Ravens

are also among the early nesters, breeding during the first week in February and laying their 4 to

6 eggs in late February. They build large stick nests on cliffs and artificial structures such as

transmission towers and football stadiums. Their loud croaks declare their presence from a long

distance. Ravens once were exclusively birds of mountain forests, but now nest in agricultural areas.

By mid-March, most woodpeckers are in breeding mode and are drumming to declare territory

and attract mates. The displays and courtship of woodpeckers are a feature of the woodland

birding in March and April.

Popular backyard and forest resident songbirds such as Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice and

Northern Cardinals also can be counted as breeding birds in mid-March. Black-capped Chickadees

a bit later, by mid-April if not earlier. Many males begin singing on brighter winter days.  Several resident 

songbirds begin singing in winter alredy  setting up territories and attracting mates.