- Written by Clyde McMillan-Gamber Clyde McMillan-Gamber
Every November, over the years, I have enjoyed the courting of white-tailed deer and great horned owls among the woods, fields, and thickets of southeastern Pennsylvania.
Being adaptable, the beautiful, graceful deer and the handsome, stately owls are abundant in this area, allowing us many opportunities to experience them through the year, especially during November.
At that time, deer are less cautious and, therefore, more obvious. The owls frequently hoot “hoo, hoo, hoo — hoooooo, hoooooo,” which gives away their presence.
The rutting season of white-tails in this area starts around the middle of October and continues into early December, with a peak of rutting in November. During that time, adult bucks use their bony antlers to push against the antlers of other bucks to determine who is stronger.
Fortunately, those dramatic contests among bucks usually don’t cause serious injury and are seldom fatal. The mightiest bucks in those battles earn the right to mate with the majority of does in their home areas, helping ensure strong, healthy fawns next year.
White-tails’ mating around November determines that the resulting fawns are born about seven months later, toward the end of May. At that time, there is plenty of lush, green vegetation that ensures that mother deer have plenty of food to produce ample milk for their single or twin fawns.
And, being born late in May ensures warmth and the whole summer and autumn to grow strong and fat to be able to cope with the coming winter. Deer born any other time might not have as good a chance at survival to maturity.
Pairs of local horned owls court by hooting to each other at dusk and dawn in November into December. In January, each pair of owls usurps a stick cradle made by hawks, herons, or crows high in a tall tree in a woodland or older suburb. Each female owl lays one to three eggs in her nursery late in January.
The owlets hatch toward the end of February and are brooded and fed by both parents. The young leave their nursery toward late April and are on their own by May’s end. At that time, juvenile rodents and rabbits abound, providing ample food for young owls inexperienced at hunting.
The courtship timing of white-tailed deer and great horned owls is correct. Young of both species are born and develop when food and warmth are most abundant, giving each species a good chance of surviving.
Other kinds of wildlife have correct mating times as well, such as American robins hatching young when earthworms are most available to feed to their offspring.
Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.