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Do Owls Mate for Life?

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two tawny frog mouth owls
Image Credit: pollydot, Shutterstock

The United States is home to 19 species of owls that range from small Elf Owls to large Great Gray Owls. These extraordinary birds with amazing hunting skills face many threats including habitat loss and pesticide use. If you’re wondering if owls mate for life, the answer is yes, most of the time owls mate for life.

Owls tend to be monogamous which means a female and male pair up and choose not to reproduce with other mates. The exception to the rule is if one of the owls dies. When this happens, the surviving owl will search for a new mate to stick with for the rest of its life.

We’ve put together some interesting facts about owls and their habits we’d like to share with you here. We love owls and find them to be fascinating winged creatures that we’re lucky enough to have right here in the United States!

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Owl Pairs Have Elaborate Courtship Rituals

two owls looking at camera
Image Credit: terii2000, Pixabay

While courting varies from one owl species to another, most owls have very elaborate courtship rituals. The male is typically the one initiating the courtship by calling out for a female and putting on a special courtship flight.

A male owl’s courtship flight will be a lot of showing off. He may display his feathers by fluffing them out or even do a little sky dancing so to speak. This performance is all done to impress the female. The male of the species will also offer the female some food to tempt her into copulation which can be anything from a dead mouse to a small bird.

If the female is impressed and accepts the food, the two will do some mutual preening while perched closely together. Once the pair has come to accept one another, the copulation process takes place wherein the male mounts the female to complete the mating.

Owls Are Not Great Nest Makers

While owls are amazing hunters, nest building isn’t an area of expertise. Many owl species will skip the hard work associated with nest building and spruce up vacant nests made by other birds like crows, hawks, and magpies. Some owls nest inside tree cavities that are often created by woodpeckers.

Barn Owls nest in barn rafters, empty buildings, and grain silos. They can also nest in cliffside cavities. Burrowing Owls make nests in underground tunnels that were dug out by burrowing animals like ground squirrels and prairie dogs. Snowy Owls keep things very simple by scraping shallow bowls on the ground.

As you can see, owls are kind of lazy when it comes to nest building but they certainly know how to get by!

Owls Lay Eggs During the Winter Months

Image Credit: moonzigg, Pixabay

Owls living in temperate environments like the United States lay their eggs in late winter, which is often in February. While the amount of eggs a female owl lays is dependent on the species, most owls lay between four and six eggs.

The incubation of owl eggs begins with the first egg laid which means the eggs usually hatch in the order in which they were laid. It takes about one month for owl eggs to hatch. Each baby owl that’s called an owlet will become a fledgling at around 50 days wherein it can fly away from the nest.

Baby Owls Eat a Varied Diet

The parents of newly hatched owls are kept busy providing food for their owlets. The male typically hunts for food and brings it back to the nesting site for the female to tear it in smaller pieces for the babies.

Owlets are not fussy eaters by any stretch of the imagination. They will happily devour almost anything that has meat on it including small animals, birds, and reptiles. Owlets will also eat bugs, fish, and worms.

What to Do if You find a Young Owl in the Wild

snow owl sitting on a tree
Image Credit: moonzigg, Pixabay

If you come across a lone baby owl on the ground, surely, you’ll feel surprised because it’s something that doesn’t happen often. You should know that it’s not normal to find a baby owl on the ground because owls normally only feed owlets in the nest. A baby owl on the ground will probably be ignored by the parents and will most likely die.

What you should do is try to find the nest the owl belongs in. If you do locate the nest and can place the owlet in it, then you’re done. Otherwise, contact an animal rescue site near you for advice. You may be told to carefully pick the owlet up and place it in a box so the experts can come and rescue the baby bird.

Owls Don’t Make Good Pets

There’s a reason why you never see owls for sale in local pet stores or online. It’s illegal in the United States to own an owl as a pet. These birds can only be possessed by trained and licensed people while they’re being rehabilitated, used in a breeding program, or for educational purposes.

If you’re disappointed to learn that you cannot have an owl as a pet, you should know that these birds don’t make good pets. Not only are owls difficult to feed, they also can be destructive and noisy. Plus, an owl is a fierce predatory bird that’s very difficult to handle. It’s surely not a bird that likes to cuddle!

Owls Live Longer in Captivity

owl inside cage
Image Credit: veverkolog, Pixabay

The average lifespan of an owl in the wild is about 10 years. An owl kept in captivity can live twice as long because it has no natural predators. When an owl is kept in captivity, it’s safe from predators and diseases and it is given everything it needs from food to shelter.

Additionally, owls kept in captivity never have to worry about competing for food with other birds of prey nor do they have to deal with harsh weather conditions that make wild owls vulnerable. Owls kept in captivity are also provided with the medical attention they need if they become sick or injured.

Owls Aren’t the Only Birds That Mate for Life

Owls are not the only birds that take a “till death do us part” stance on love. Other birds that are monogamous and mate for life include the:

  • Bald Eagle
  • Black Vulture
  • Laysan Albatross
  • Mute Swan
  • Scarlet Macaw
  • Whooping Crane
  • California Condor
  • Atlantic Puffin

All these species of birds choose a single mate and stick with that bird through thick and thin. Who knows? Maybe we humans can learn a thing about monogamy from our feathered friends who stick by one another no matter what life throws at them.

In Conclusion

We Americans are fortunate to share our beautiful country with several species of owls. If you ever get lucky and spot an owl in the wild, tip your hat to that noble bird of prey and give it some respect. Owls are incredibly beautiful birds that are just as fascinating to see in the wild as they are to learn about online!

Featured Image Credit: PollyDot, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.