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Birds of Prey - The Great Horned Owl
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
- 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.
- Owl facts and fiction by HubPages Kidscrafts
Owls are an endangered species. Key to their conservation is a better understanding of their habitat and their way of life.
Other articles on Birds of Prey
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- Birds of Prey - The California Condor
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- Birds of Prey - The Snowy Owl
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- Birds of Prey - The Golden Eagle
Learn everything you need to know about the majestic Golden Eagle. Larger than the Bald Eagle, the Golden Eagle is much more widespread and is the largest Bird of Prey in North America.
© 2012 Bill De Giulio