Sunday, March 12, 2006

Cloacal Kiss

Birds only have one "out" door, and it's called the cloaca. So when mating season rolls around, that all-purpose door comes into use again.

Speaking of mating season, Alice has been hootier than ever. This is the first year she's ever hooted in public (and she does it right on cue almost every time I lean forward and hoot to her.) But I've never quite gotten a good handle on the finer details of Great Horned Owl mating behavior.

After doing some digging and talking to a very few folks who have actually witnessed Great Horned Owls doing the deed, I was a little surprised to realize that male Great Horned Owls have the good sense not to try to sidle up to the females and hop on their backs from there. (They'd most likely get bitten, from my experiences!) Instead they fly over and just plain LAND on the backs of the females! That ought to require some good maneuvering skills.

Since I can't exactly fly over and land on Alice's back, I tried something else. When she gets EXCEEDINGLY hooty, she will let me put my hand and forearm on her back. She just holds her head down and keeps hooting. So one day I checked out the back end to see if anything noticeable was happening.

I guess I must have blushed. The feathers around her cloaca parted and lowered, just like the rear hatch on a cargo plane opening. And not only was her cloaca exposed completely, it was making repeated "kissing" motions about once per second. Seriously--it looked just like someone doing an exaggerated kiss over and over, and I could even hear it! Uff da, a little much for this shy Norwegian girl!

So since I don't have breeding permits or "the right stuff" to do the deed, there's not much I can do about the whole situation. But out of curiosity, I tried a few more times to see if I could elicit the same behavior. At the nest, no. On her window perch, almost always when she's hooty. The other thing I've noticed is that when she's really excited/hooty, she will leave the last syllable off her normal hoot. This seems to indicate a level of receptiveness as far as I can figure, since every time she hoots like that, she very willingly lowers the hatches when I put my hand on her back.

This is probably WAY more than any of you wanted to know (except for the most die-hard owl biologists). But at least now I know why mating in birds is sometimes nicely referred to as the "cloacal kiss."