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Great Horned Owls are some of the earliest-breeding birds in North America, seemingly in part because of the lengthy nightfall at this time of year. They breed in late January or early February and are often heard calling to each other regularly as early in the fall as October. They choose a mate by December and are often heard duetting before this time. For owls found in more tropical climates, the dates of the breeding season are somewhat undefined.
The male attracts the attention of his mate by hooting emphatically while leaning over (with the tail folded back) and puffing up his white throat to look like a ball. The female hoots back when the pair meet but is more subdued in both her hoot and display. Pairs typically breed together year after year and may mate for life, although they associate with each other more loosely when their young become mostly independent. Like all owls, Great Horned Owls do not build their own nest. They often take over a nest used by some other large bird, sometimes adding feathers to line the nest but usually not much more. Old crow and raven (Corvus), Red-tailed Hawk or large squirrel nests are often favored in North America. However, they are far from dependent on the old nests of others and may use cavities in trees and snags, deserted buildings, and artificial platforms. Other nest sites have included a large gap in a tree trunk, sheltered depressions on rocks and even a heron's nest in the midst of a heronry. Males select nesting sites and bring the females attention to them by flying to them and then stomping on them.
There are usually 2 eggs per clutch, with a clutch ranging in size from 1 to 6 eggs (over 4 is very rare), depending on environmental conditions. The average egg width is 1.8 in (46.5 mm), the average length is 2.2 in (55.2 mm) and the average weight is 1.8 oz (51 g). The incubation period ranges from 28 to 37 days, averaging 33 days. The female alone does all the incubation and rarely moves from the nest, while the male owl captures food to bring to her. Brooding is almost continuous until the offspring are about 2 weeks old, after which it decreases. The male feeds both the female and the young for around 2 weeks after hatching. Young owls move onto nearby branches at 6 weeks and start to fly about a week later. However, the young are usually not competent fliers until they are about 10 to 12 weeks old. The offspring have still been seen begging for food in late October (5 months after leaving the nest) and most do not separate from their parents until right before they start to reproduce for the next clutch (usually December). Birds may not breed for another year or two, and are often vagrants ("floaters") until they establish their own territories.[/img]