The Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
(Bubo virginianus)

Most often found in treed areas like forests, woodlands and shrublands this large, heavy bodied, owl is known for it's prominent ear tuffs that resemble horns spread widely on it's head. This most common North American owl, stands 18-25 inches tall with a 3-4 foot wingspan and can weigh as much as 5 pounds. Males and females can be distinguished by the smaller size of the male and his lower pitched call. Both have cat-like eyes and brown white, gray, and black markings that look like the bark of a tree, helping to camouflage it in the woods.

Because the Great Horned Owl is a nocturnal hunter there "hoot" calls are usually heard more than they are seen. They are very powerful hunters and can kill and carry away prey several times heavier than themselves.They have very good eyesight and excellent hearing that help it hunt at night. Like other owls, the make up of its feather make it almost silent when it flies making it easier to sneak up on prey.

What Do They Eat?

The incredible digestive system of this owl allows them to swallow small prey whole. larger prey in torn into smaller bits that are easier to swallow. Then the owlregurgitates the bone, fur and other undigestable parts in the form of pellets that are about the size of a man's thumb. Their diet is primarily made up of large rodents and small fur bearing mammals like rabbits, but they have an unusual appetite for skunks. They swoop down on prey using their powerful sharp talons (more powerful than any other bird of prey) to grab and kill it.

Nesting & Mating

In the winter months of January and early February is mating season for the great horned owl. During mating season, the male and female "hoot" to one another performing a ritual that includes bowing to each other and rubbing bills. These owls do not build their own nest, instead they seek out tree holes, crevaces in rocks, nooks in buildings or existing nests of other birds like hawks, crows and herons. They sometimes will even take over squirrel nests. They are extremely aggrassive and will and will attack intruders. There are even cases of them chasing off humans that get too close to their nest.

After mating the female will lay 2-4 white eggs that she will incubate for about a month (26-35 days). After about five or six weeks the young owls climb out on to nearby branches, but can not fly for another five weeks so they are still fed by their parents. A few weeks later the young birds will be completely weaned and ready to fend for themselves.

Great Horned Owl Facts

  • Captive birds have been known to live 29 to 38 years, and wild owls up to 13 years.
  • The male's loud resonanting "hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo" call can be heard for several miles on a quiet night.
  • These owls are also known as tiger owls because of their cat-like yellow eyes and tufts that resemble cat ears.
  • They mate for life, beginning at 2 years of age.
  • You will often see this owl being regularly harassed by flocks of crows.
  • Their sight is nearly one hundred times better than humans.

(Click button below to listen to the Great Horned Owl)

Back to Owls Page from Great Horned Owls

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