The Great Horned Owl, the Tiger of the Air
The great horned is the most widespread in North Americaand is most likely the most powerful, as well. They commonly attack animals larger than themselves, including porcupines, skunk, and domestic cats. This is another reason to keep your cats in the house, for it is the law of nature. Cats attack songbirds, and owls pay the cats back, so carefully think about the importance of both aspects of the cycle of life. Again, this bird is one of the most aggressive and efficient predators.
This owl is surpassed in size only by the north Canadian Great Grey Owl. The female is larger and heavier than the male, weighing up to 3 pounds with a four-foot wingspan. She will not be cute and play with you if she is protecting her young, so be forewarned if you spot a young one on the ground. She is watching it from somewhere. Unless you are absolutely certain that she is not feeding that little one, still be cautious, or contact Fish and Wildlife or a licensed rehabilitator if you think that the animal has been abandoned.
The great horned received its name from those conspicuous “horns” on both sides of the top of the head. They have nothing to do with hearing, they are only feathers. The ears are located on the sides of the head, and are completely hidden. They hear higher tones, like the squeak of a mouse, but not the drumming of a woodpecker or a grouse. Chiefly nocturnal, they become active at dusk. There are exceptions to every rule, as they will also sometimes hunt during the day, especially if they have young.
The large yellow eyes are set in front of the head, giving it binocular vision. The eyes appear larger than what they really are, due to the flattened and feathered facial disks around them. If there is something on either side of their eyes, they must turn the head in order to see it. If the object moves behind the bird, the bird cannot rotate its head completely around, which is a common misnomer. They have a 270 degree rotation on either side, and move quickly, which is the common error on most people’s parts.
The Great Horned Owl can live in the extreme cold and has soft, dense feathers right down to the talons. They are monogamous and one of the earliest nesting species, laying their eggs in the winter, the end of February to early March. A clutch is between two and four eggs, but it is rare to see more than two owlets to a nest. Unlike most birds, incubation begins when the first egg is laid, so if the eggs are laid a week apart, the young will hatch about a week apart. The female does most of the incubation, but her partner will help out occasionally. The male will feed the female and the young, and it has been known that he is so zealous about this duty, that he brings more food than can be eaten by all of them. As much as 18 pounds of food has been found in a nest!
These owls will not migrate, unless it comes down to the lack of food, then they will do so. Any decline in the population of voles, rabbits, and lemmings will force these birds to migrate, not the cold.
Man is the Great Horned Owl’s chief enemy, not the hunter. These are the people who set pole traps for hawks and owls. In many states, the use of these types of traps is illegal, as they are so indiscriminate. They will maim or kill any bird that lands on them.
The crow is likely the owl’s main natural enemy, as they like the eggs and the young ones, if left unattended. Raccoons will also do the same, but that is relatively rare.
Owls will sometimes use artificial nesting platforms and prefer conifers for nesting, as they provide excellent cover. For additional information on re-nesting fallen baby owls, read my other hub: http://aviannovice.hubpages.com/hub/Baby-Raptor-Renesting-with-Owlets