The Seasonal Almanac: The Great Horned Owl, Winter Holidays and the Light of Planets and Stars

The Seasonal Almanac covers astronomical events and nature, including a tribute to the Great Horned Owl, the winter holidays of Boxing Day and St. Nicholas Day and the light of planets and stars.

| December 1997/January 1998

  • 165-030-01
    The Great Horned Owl is the size of the largest hawks, about 20 inches tall with a 55-inch wingspan.

  • 165-030-01

The Seasonal Almanac shares astronomical events in December 1997 and January 1998. This issue includes information on the Great Horned Owl, Boxing Day and St. Nicholas Day winter holidays and the light of planets and stars. 

The Great Horned Owl

Santa Claus is not the only one who flies through the skies on winter nights. A quite different airborne character is the Great Horned Owl. Although it is not quite the largest American owl (the Great Gray Owl is bigger, but common only in the Far North), the Great Horned Owl reigns supreme in the bird world. This mighty predator is a common permanent resident from the northern tree lines all the way to Tierra del Fuego. Its appearance is ferocious, with a big face, wide-apart ear tufts (its "horns"), and big yellow eyes topped by white lines of feathers in a V shape that create the impression of a scowl.

The Great Horned Owl's preferred prey is rabbit but it will attack a wide variety of animals up to the size of a skunk—even small house pets can be at risk. This owl is the size of the largest hawks, about 20 inches tall with a 55-inch wingspan. The only creatures of the air which are capable of harassing it are groups of crows, which seem to do so by raising a racket to drive it off.

Though fearsome to other animals, the great horned owl is a majestic creature to humans. Although the daytime eyesight of owls is said to be good, the Great Horned hunts at night and so is more often heard than seen. On stiff nights we can hear especially well its deep melodious hoots in a series of 3 to 8, interspersed with a longer "hoo-ooo" sound. This is one of the few animal sounds to be heard on winter nights. And owls are noted for breeding and laying their eggs in the cold, earlier than other birds. The Great Horned uses the nests of other large birds or squirrels and usually produces its eggs in February. The incubation period is about a month and the hatchlings don't leave the nest for another two months.

Boxing Day and St. Nicholas Day

"Christmas has become too commercial"—we've heard this cry for decades, maybe made it ourselves. Some reformers have suggested that December 25 could be partly rescued from materialism by setting the time for gift-giving, or at least some gift-giving, on another day. This has already been done in other cultures, at other times.

An old tradition still acknowledged in Canada, Great Britain, and Australia is that of Boxing Day, December 26. This day is the feast of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, and its name is derived from the fact that on this day, alms boxes for the poor were distributed and servants took boxes of food and gifts from their employers home to their families.

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