Hootie was an unreleasable horned owl that lived at the Trailside Zoo in NJ until September 1976, when the zoo closed and The Raptor Trust gave her a home. We think she was at least ten years old at that time. Since then, for 23 years, Hootie has been the foster mother for all the orphaned Great Horned Owl chicks that came to TRT.
In New Jersey, Great Horned Owls begin courtship and nesting as early as December. By late January and February, many female horned owls are already incubating eggs. This was true of our Hootie, as well. Like wild Great Horned Owls (and most animals), Hootie's instinct to raise babies was triggered by photoperiodism: The lengthening of daylight, beginning in late December, triggered hormone production in Hootie's body, and those hormones stimulated her body to create eggs. By February, Hootie would be incubating two eggs. She had no mate, so her eggs were infertile, but she would guard them throughout the weeks that follow. Those same hormones also triggered a "mothering" instinct in her. We call this "broody;" that is, incubating eggs and getting ready to give warmth and care to the chicks once they hatch. Hootie's eggs never hatched, but invariably she got her babies. As early as March and as late as June, The Raptor Trust receives orphaned Great Horned Owl nestlings and fledglings. As soon as they are determined to be healthy, they were given to their waiting foster mother.
Hootie responded appropriately to the baby owl begging calls by gently offering them food and feeding their insatiable appetites.
Every spring for 5 years we wondered if she would come through, as she was quite old. And she came through for us again, in the spring and summer of 2000 when she was a minimum of 34 years old. Between March and June 2000, she raised 10 babies.
On August 24, 2000, our Hootie, the Mother of all Mothers, The Raptor Trust's reliable foster mom, died. In her 23 seasons at The Raptor Trust, Hootie had been a most devoted and attentive parent, raising over 300 Great Horned Owl chicks in her long life. Not one of them was her own; yet generations of Hootie's babies hunt the forests and woods of New Jersey, as fierce, wild Great Horned Owls.