Back in the nest
My 72-year old father got very ill at the tail end of January. He may have been close to “checking out”, but some excellent doctors and nurses did their job and got him healed up and back on his feet. When we got home, we were all glad to have him “back in the nest”. I actually stated it that way to my dad, and it made me think of this month’s newsletter.
While it seems very early for any bird in its right mind to be thinking about nesting, there are a couple species that will be back in the nest soon. With your windows shut at night all winter, some of you may not have heard, but Great Horned Owls have been “hooting” a lot lately. They are our earliest nesting species, in fact a few pairs may already have eggs in the nest by Groundhog Day. They usually nest in large stick nests (typically built by other species like Red-tailed Hawks or other raptors), but will occasionally nest lower where tree trunks fork and occasionally use large holes in dirt banks as well. When they use the large stick nests, with them nesting well before the trees have any leaves on them, you can find them pretty easily. As you drive along, watch for large nests and stop to see if anything is on them. Early in the season they tend to sit low and tight on the nests, so depending on the height of the nest and your viewing angle, you may only be able to see their “ears” or “horns” (the feather tufts on the tops of their heads). As the season moves along and the young hatch and grow, the adults sit up higher and become more visible. Great Horned Owls are a common species across the state, if you look for them, you will be surprised how little time it will actually take for you to find one on a nest by the end of February or early March.
Bald Eagles Building and Adding
Bald Eagles are probably building and adding to nests right now and may start nesting as early as the middle of February. If you are seeing a pair of adult Bald Eagles (with the white head and tail) in your area during early February, it is very possible that there may be a nest somewhere nearby (within 3 miles or so). Keep an eye out for ridiculously large nests – some of which you literally could sit a Volkswagon Beetle on. You really can’t miss them and they are popping up across the state. As of 2016 there are 215 known eagle nests in Nebraska, 158 of which were “active” last year with nesting pairs, which was another record year. Nests have been documented in 71 of the 93 counties in Nebraska, so odds are there is one somewhere near you. If you do happen to spot an eagle nest (preferably an “active” nest with adults present), we would appreciate you reporting it to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission by contacting your nearest office, or by calling the Lincoln office at (402) 471-0641. Many of the counties where Bald Eagle nests have not yet been documented are in the Chicken Dance Trail area – so you could be the first one to report one in your county.
A drive through the countryside or to your favorite State Recreation Area or Wildlife Management Area in the next month may allow you to find nests of the two species discussed above. So get out there and look around and see what you can see, it will be time well spent.
“A New Resolution” update
– in case you are wondering…..It has proven very difficult to walk “every day” for at least an hour, however I did manage to get in 16 walks for a total of 38.5 miles, and walked an additional 44 miles outside of those for a total of 82.5 miles in January. My longest single walk was 4.0 miles (in one hour and ten minutes), but I walked 5.5 miles in one day while pheasant hunting. I saw two different red foxes, lots of birds and highly variable weather and “trail” conditions. I have also been battling shin splints…..every walk. And I am down 8.2 pounds, not a bad start. Hope some of you are “walking with me” and having some success of your own – for me it has been time (and calories) well spent.
Biologist, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission