Love is in the air…

SCOTT FELKER, Three Creeks Naturalist

“Love is in the air…” Or on the ground and maybe in the water. As winter starts its slow ascent to spring, hormone levels in our wild neighbors rise resulting in an urge to reproduce.

A great horned owl perched on a snag of a dead tree.
Great horned owls are monogamous and typically remain on the same territory year round. Photo Tim Daniel

Great-horned owls get a head start by laying eggs as early as late January. In really cold weather eggs are constantly incubated – mostly by the female but the male takes over if the female is hunting.


A young skunk in a park field
The stinky scent that skunks are so famous for occurs when males try to attract females. Photo Christopher Brinkman

Sometimes love just stinks, especially if you’re a striped skunk. Males emerge from dens in mid-February seeking mates. Female skunks that aren’t ready to mate spritz overly amorous males to warn them away.


A muskrat moves about in a wetland at Glacier Ridge Metro Park.
The female muskrat initiates courtship as she swims about making squeaking sounds. Photo Sammy Peppers

Captain and Tenille might have sung about “Muskrat Love” in the 1970s but real muskrats (unlike Muskrat Susie and Muskrat Sam from the song) start mating as early as February and a female may have as many as four litters in a year.


A congress of spotted salamanders, with hundreds of animals writhing together at the beginning of the mating season
Salamanders are not vocal and in most species the sexes look alike, so they use smell and touch to identify mates. Photo Andrea Krava

If we have warm, rainy nights in February some salamanders move to their breeding ponds. In the case of spotted salamanders the males arrive first and move through the water in writhing groups called congresses. When the females arrive, males leave the congress to pursue a mate.


A bald eagle sits on the nest atop a huge sycamore tree at Highbanks
Bald eagles begin mating at the age of four and pair for life. Photo Karl Hassel

Bald eagle pairs bond by occasionally mating through most of the year but don’t lay eggs. It’s only with increasing day length that a female eagle can successfully produce fertile eggs. Shortly after she lays two or three eggs, a different hormone, prolactin, is produced that makes her infertile for another year.


A coyote howling in the woods
Coyotes are solitary by nature, but they mate for live. (Metro Parks photo archive)

Coyotes usually mate in February. Unlike most animals that supposedly mate for life, coyotes really do just that. Genetic research shows that coyote pairs are likely to be 100 percent faithful until one of the pair dies!

Tell us about animal nests or mating that you’ve seen in the parks or send photos to