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Birds of Prey - The Great Horned Owl

Updated on April 20, 2016
The Great Horned Owl
The Great Horned Owl | Source

The Great Horned Owl is the most common owl in North America. As one of the largest and most recognizable members of the owl family, the Great Horned Owl is famous for its feathered tufts that resemble horns.

The Great Horned Owl is extremely adaptable and can be found almost anywhere from the southern tip of South America all the way to the Arctic. Exceeded in size only by the Snowy Owl, the Great Horned Owl is certainly the most powerful and aggressive owl across the America’s and has earned its reputation as a fierce and determined hunter and defender.

Description

The Great Horned Owl is quite large and can weigh up to five pounds. As with other birds of prey the female is typically larger than the male and can measure up to 25 inches in length. Males, being smaller, will usually measure closer to 20 inches. Their wingspan is impressive and can reach up to five feet from tip to tip.

There can be a lot of variation in the color of their plumage depending on their geographic location. Owls found in the arctic regions tend to be lighter in color while those found farther south can be a dark chocolate brown. Various shades of grey, brown and black with patterns and barring throughout are also common.

The famous horns are actually neither horns nor ears but large feathered tufts that get tucked back in flight. Their eyes are a bright glowing yellow and they possess very large, powerful talons.

The Great Horned Owl
The Great Horned Owl | Source

Habits and Breeding

The Great Horned Owl will typically nest in a tree hole but can be found in stumps, caves or even in an abandoned nest. They do not build their own nests but will seek out the abandoned nest of a hawk or eagle.

The Great Horned Owl is somewhat unique in that they will begin the nesting and breeding process as early as January or February. Like other birds of prey they are monogamous and a breeding pair can produce anywhere from one to five eggs with two being the norm. The incubating duties are done by the female and will last from four to five weeks while the male hunts and brings food.

The owlets will start roaming in six to seven weeks and will fly after ten weeks or so. The young owls will stay with the parents through the summer and will slowly distance themselves and finally leave come autumn. While raising their young, the adult Great Horned Owls will fiercely defend their nest and have been known to even attack humans who have come too close.

3 week old chicks in their nest, Arizona.
3 week old chicks in their nest, Arizona. | Source

Diet

This powerfully built, robust owl is an aggressive hunter and will hunt a wide range of mammals including; rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, moles and even skunks. They will also hunt birds and even other birds of prey including other owls. They are capable of carrying prey that is two to three times their weight and will hunt fish, lizards and even small alligators. Their diet is extremely varied (over 200 different animals) and with no natural predators they are certainly at the top of the food chain. Their normal hunting style is to sit motionless in a tree while scanning for prey until a victim is spotted. Given that they are largely nocturnal they will hunt primarily at night but have been known to hunt during daylight hours.

A pair of juvenile Great Horned Owls.
A pair of juvenile Great Horned Owls. | Source
Talons used for hunting.
Talons used for hunting. | Source

Habitat

The Great Horned Owl is found only in the America’s. They are very adaptable and range from South America all the way to the Arctic regions. Those that make their home in the colder regions will normally migrate south in the winter while those that range in the warmer climates will maintain their territory year round.

The Great Horned Owl can be found in almost any setting including; suburban areas, farmland, heavily wooded areas and mountain landscapes. They do prefer areas with a combination of open land for hunting, and woods for nesting and roosting.

Great Horned Owl Range

Range of the Great Horned Owl
Range of the Great Horned Owl | Source

Status

With few predators other than humans the Great Horned Owl is not considered threaten at the moment. While some limited hunting and trapping of the owl still exists it is prohibited in most countries. Through education and conservation efforts the population of the Great Horned Owl is now stable. The lifespan of the Great Horned Owl in the wild is up to 13 years while in captivity they have been known to live up to 38 years.

Interesting composite photo of the Great Horned Owl in flight.
Interesting composite photo of the Great Horned Owl in flight. | Source

Fun Facts

  • The Great Horned Owl is the only animal to feed somewhat regularly on Skunks.
  • Great Horned Owls are also known as Winged Tigers.
  • The Great Horned Owl, as with other owls, has fourteen neck vertebra that allow it to turn its head 270 degrees.
  • In addition to having excellent eyesight, which is about 100 times that of a human, the Great Horned Owl is also capable of hunting with just its keen sense of smell.
  • They also have tremendous hearing and can determine the height that a sound is coming from. They tilt and turn their head until they get an exact fix on where the noise is coming from.
  • Owls are color blind and see everything in shades of white and black.
  • The ear tufts that look like horns of their head are actually tufts of feathers called Plumicorns.
  • The Great Horned Owl can swallow some of its smaller prey whole. They will later regurgitate unwanted bone, fur and feathers in small round pellets.
  • The Great Horned Owl is one of the earliest breeding birds starting in late January to early February.

© 2012 Bill De Giulio

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    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 20 months ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks Kristen. Every now and then I'll write a hub on a Bird of Prey although it's been a while. Maybe I'll get back to it soon. Thanks for the vote, have a great weekend.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 20 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Bill, this was an awesome hub on great horned owls. It's so factual and packed with useful information for everyone who's a bird lover, watcher or admirer. Voted up!

    • Penny G profile image

      Penny Godfirnon 2 years ago from Southern Iowa

      Sure wish I could have but my phone does not take pictures at night, not a smart phone. Ill show them this, it was truly amazing. I wish someone believed, aww but you do. Oh by the way this was in southern Iowa40 miles from the Missouri border, in the country.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Penny. You're not seeing things, indeed the Great Horned Owl can grow to over 2 feet. Lucky you to see one by the side of the road. Pretty funny that your family thinks your sleep deprived. Try taking a picture, maybe then they'll believe you :)

      Thanks for stopping by, have a great weekend.

    • Penny G profile image

      Penny Godfirnon 2 years ago from Southern Iowa

      So glad I came across your hub. My family has been making fun of me for years now when I came home from my night job and told them I saw an owl somewhere between 2 and 3 feet tall. They said I was sleep deprived! I know what I saw he sat beside the road and never moved as I passed. I think he looked like the great horned owl, but I passed quickly on the highway. Now I know there are owls over 2 feet tall.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Ruby. They certainly are. They are amazing creatures. Thanks so much for the visit, glad you liked it.

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 4 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      owls are so awesome to learn about, thanks for a great hub, loved it.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Nick. I've learned a lot about these amazing birds in doing this series. Thanks for stopping by, appreciate the read, comment, vote and share.

    • nanderson500 profile image

      nanderson500 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Very interesting, I didn't know that great horned owls preyed on skunks. Lots of interesting facts and figures. It's good that they are in good shape population wise. Voted up and interesting.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Au fait. Thanks for stopping by. They are amazing creatures and it's always the highlight of my day when we see one, which isn't very often.

      Thank you for the VT, share, etc. Have a great day.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      I really like owls. They're beautiful and so quiet when they fly. They keep the rodent population down. Loved the photo of mom and babies. Excellent hub. Voted up, interesting, and will share with my followers.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Michelle. Glad you enjoyed it and thank you for the nice comments. I've had a great time putting together this Birds of Prey series. Thanks again and have a great day.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      This is one of the nicest, most detailed animal hub I have read! Do share more of these and I'll be reading them! Always been fascinated by how fast birds of prey work.....really the leaders in the circle of life. All my votes!

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Sheila. Thank you for the nice comments, very much appreciated. The Great Horned Owl is another one of these beautiful Birds of Prey. They are just amazing creatures. Thank you for the visit and have a great day.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      I always enjoy your animals hubs! You always leave such good detailed and interesting information. This is another great hub amoung your many. Voted up and awesome!

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Vinaya. Thanks for reading and commenting. I learned a few new things. Was not aware that the owl was a religious symbol in Hinduism. This just adds to their mystical nature. Thanks for the info, have a great day.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

      This is a great article about a magnification bird. Owl is also a religious symbol in Hinduism. It is the carrier of the Goddess of Wealth. Owls feathers and bones are also used in black magic.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thank you Lesley. Appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. I feel like I'm back in school learning about all these new birds, it's been a great experience. Have a wonderful day, Bill

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      A wonderful hub, your birds of prey series is first class!

      I loved all the 'fun facts' I've learnt a great deal about the Great Horned Owl, enjoyed this very much thank you, voted up and shared.

      Best wishes Lesley

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bruce. Glad you enjoyed it. The Great Horned Owl really is an amazing and beautiful creature. Very much appreciate you reading, commenting and sharing. Have a great day. Bill

    • Born2care2001 profile image

      Rev Bruce S Noll HMN 4 years ago from Asheville NC

      Hello,

      What an absolutely awe inspiring hub about an incredible animal that I now know more about. The photography, the habitat descriptions, the research and maps! OMG! It took my breath away and made me want to learn more about them. My wife is somewhat of a birder and she instantly appreciated this hub.

      Definitely sharing! I am so grateful and will look to see more.

      Thank you very, very much!

      Bruce

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Glimmer Twin Fan. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Glad you enjoyed it. They certainly are beautiful creatures. Have a great day.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Suzie. Thank you once again for your amazing support. One of the reasons I love doing this series is because, as you said, they really are stunning subjects. I find them to be just amazing creatures and I'm just having a great time learning about them. Many thanks my friend.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Fascinating and the fun facts were great!

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Yet another fab addition to your series my good friend! This Horned Owl certainly has some really interesting facts and changes so much in appearance from the owlet stage through to adult! Beautiful photos as always, don't the birds of prey make stunning subjects! Congrats again Bill, love this series and for all who have not read your series I say "Go check it out" - Voted across and sharing, keep up the great work bud:-)

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi TT. Thanks as always for reading, commenting and the vote. I have had such a great time with this series. Every time I think I'm done with it I decide to add a new one. I hope to keep it going. Appreciate the support. Have a great day.

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Such a beautiful bird. Fantastic job, BD! Love this series on all the gorgeous birds. Keep up the great work. VUM.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Jasmine. Glad you enjoyed it. They certainly are interesting and beautiful creatures. Thank you for reading, commenting and the vote.

    • vox vocis profile image

      Jasmine 4 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading this hub, especially the fun facts! Owls are such interesting, mystical creatures. No wonder they symbolize wisdom - they sure do look wise :) Voted up!

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks vwriter. My sister has chickens also and she added a roof to the chicken coop to keep the hawks and owls out. The Great Horned Owl is very capable of carrying off a full grown chicken. They are also very aggressive hunters hence the nickname "flying tiger". Thanks for stopping by to read and comment.

    • vwriter profile image

      vwriter 4 years ago from US

      My neighbor was awaken in the night with their chickens going crazy. He went out and found an owl trying to get at the chickens. The owl was unsuccessful because of the top fencing the neighbor had just put up. Lucky he did, he may not of had any chicken.

      Great hub and pictures.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi mollymeadows. Thanks for the visit. They are usually pretty active at night being nocturnal. Undoubtably on the hunt. Appreciate the comments. Have a great day.

    • mollymeadows profile image

      Mary Strain 4 years ago from The Shire

      We have these at my house; I hear them outside my window at about 1 or 2 am. And occasionally a high-pitched shriek soon after; some of our wild rabbits or squirrels going the way of all flesh. Thanks for the close up look; I've never seen them myself, since they stay hidden in the daytime.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bobbi. Thanks so much for taking the time to read about the Great Horned Owl. I also love the Snowy Owl, they are just stunning. I have a hub on the Snowy Owl if you're interested: https://hubpages.com/animals/Birds-of-Prey-The-Sno...

      Thanks again for reading and commenting. Bill

    • PurvisBobbi44 profile image

      PurvisBobbi44 4 years ago from Florida

      Hi,

      I love my Snowy Owls since they are so beautiful. However, I did learn something today by reading your hub a few things to be honest.

      I will look for your hubs in the future, since I am a country girl at heart and love all animals and birds.

      Thanks,

      Your Hub Friend,

      Bobbi Purvis

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