In the column Since You Asked in every issue of BirdWatching, Contributing Editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Here are questions from our October 2017 issue.
We heard a Great Horned Owl hooting last fall around Halloween. We thought they nested in winter. Why would it hoot in the fall? — Cole and Flora Albert, Akron, Ohio
Great Horned Owls initiate nesting in winter — in January or February in your neck of the woods. Pairs usually occupy a permanent territory, but males will begin hooting out their property claims in the fall, typically after they are no longer caring for the young they raised that year. A pair of owls will start hooting to each other, strengthening their bond, a month or two before the first egg is laid.
Recently I was stunned to see a Red-bellied Woodpecker stick its head in an active House Wren box and pull out a nestling. The box was too small for the woodpecker to fully enter and use, so why did it attack the wrens? — Peggy Cooper, Athens, Georgia
In addition to seeds, nuts, fruits, and insects gleaned from tree trunks, Red-bellied Woodpeckers are known to take a variety of other food items when the opportunity arises. This includes small vertebrates, such as mice or lizards, and eggs and nestlings of other birds. Reported poachings involve open-cup nesters, such as American Redstart, and cavity nesters such as White-breasted Nuthatch and House Wren — from both natural cavities and nest boxes. Some woodpeckers seem to learn that boxes can be a source of food. If this woodpecker continues to be a problem for your wrens, you could consider trying a deeper or horizontal nest box design that might place the nestlings out of reach.
Other woodpecker species, including Pileated and Gila Woodpeckers, have been observed taking eggs and young.