Tales and Trails: Love in the Time of Cold


One day it’s warm and sunny, the next day cold and snowy.

Welcome to that time on the calendar between winter and spring, though spring really doesn’t seem to hit us some years till May.

In the animal kingdom, several species ignore the calendar and do their thing now to ensure the future of their kind.

The great horned owl is hooting about now, looking for the right mate.

That hoot-hoot-hoot you heard last night or just before dawn is the mating ritual of the great horned owl. After mating, the owls will continue to hoot, not so much to proclaim their love and affection but to stake out a territory and warn other owls away.

Another bird that mates and lays eggs in winter is the bald eagle. By the end of February, many bald eagles in this state are sitting on eggs.

Why would eagles and owls mate and lay eggs now? Because it takes so long to raise their young; they will be teaching their young to hunt in the summer when prey is abundant and easier to catch.

Underwater now is a time of survival, except for the ling, sometimes called burbot.


Burbot actively spawn through the winter, even under the ice.

This slimy denizen of the deep is in the middle of its mating season right now. Most spawning probably occurs in February and into March in water one to 10 feet deep.

According to Fishes of Montana, by Dr. C.J.D. Brown: “Males and females collect in masses or ‘balls’ and eggs and sperm are released in these balls as the fish move in and out.”


Not only do burbot spawn in winter, the species seems to come alive in the winter. Burbot are a favorite winter fare that many anglers have difficulty finding in the summer, when the fish is not as active. Then it seeks out deep holes where it stays put, munching on other fish and fish eggs.

Back on land, some mammals have given birth already, like bears and wolverines.

Near the end of January and into February, throughout Montana hundreds of pregnant grizzlies and black bears gave birth in their winter dens.

Grizzly Bear and cub

Near the end of January and into February, throughout Montana grizzlies and black bears give birth.

Each litter averages two cubs, born tiny, blind and helpless. A grizzly weighs about one pound at birth; black bears a half a pound.


The cubs nurse on rich milk that is 20 to 40 percent fat (human milk contains 4 percent fat) while their mother snores away.

Mother grizzly awakes occasionally from her deep sleep – to give birth, eat the placenta, and clean up her newborns – but researchers are not sure that she ever fully comes out of hibernation until the spring.

Meanwhile, in rugged, roadless, wilderness-like areas, wolverines – a compact, powerful member of the mustelid or weasel family – give birth to two to three kits from February into April. The birth (natal) den is located under snow 6.5 to 10 feet deep that persists until late spring, indicating the value of isolated wintering areas for this uncommon mammal.

We may look out the window and ask will winter ever end. But for several wildlife species the life cycle never stops and much of the winter is spent mating, giving birth or laying eggs.