I read a news report on Tuesday that said 70% of the contiguous United States had snow cover. Up in Minnesota, it’s a whole mess of snow with super cold temperatures. And yet, I love that there is a bird around here…and in most of the US that says, “Screw winter, screw snow, I’m mating and laying eggs.”
Last week, while snowshoeing in a south metro park. I was watching the deer and noting the coyote and fox tracks when this caught my attention:
I only had my phone with me and could only get a mediocre photo. It was a large egg on top of the snow and something had broken the egg and left a bit of the yolk still inside. It was 9 degrees Fahrenheit outside and the remainder of the egg was frozen rock solid. I looked around at my surroundings. The egg was found on the edge of a lake, not near any trees. It was on top of over 20 inches of snow that was frozen hard, it wasn’t an old goose egg that could have been found under the snow.
Here’s the egg sitting next to a chicken egg from the grocery store. The frozen egg is almost the same size as the brown chicken egg. There were a couple of Wood Duck boxes near where I found the egg in question but this egg is too large to have come from a little Wood Duck. Also, all of the boxes had some serious predator guards on the pole that were actually mounted properly, so this didn’t come from the box. My theory is that this is a Great Horned Owl egg.
Great Horned Owls do not build their own nest. They take over an old hawk nest or old squirrel nest. Heck, I’ve even seen a Great Horned Owl use an old Great Blue Heron nest. They are not big into making improvements or renovations and often the nest falls apart after the chicks hatch and move about the nest. My theory is that an owl chose a bad nest to begin with and it fell down in some of our recent wind, dropping any eggs that would be in it this time of year. Once an egg was on the ground a fox or raccoon could have carried it away to eat it and got startled, leaving the half eaten behind to freeze on top of the snow.
I can’t imagine any critter brazen enough to pilfer a Great Horned Owl nest. I can’t even imagine a crow pulling that stunt. I don’t with absolute certainty that this is an owl egg, but what other egg would be on top of the snow this time of year?
So, check out those large empty nests. It’s a good reminder that some owls are nesting–gotta love a bird that says, “Screw snow and sub zero temperatures, I’m breeding.”
Incidentally, it is against the Migratory Bird Treaty to possess native North American birds or their parts–including eggs. I picked this up and first presented it to the nature center I was visiting. The naturalists on staff did not want the egg and said that as a Park Ranger, I could take it back to my park the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.