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Everything You Wanted to Know About the Great Horned Owl

I have always had an interest in nature and birds of prey in particular. Learn about these majestic creatures that grace our skies.

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

The Great Horned Owl

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

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.

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.

Talons used for hunting.

Talons used for hunting.

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

Status

With few predators other than humans the Great Horned Owl is not considered threatened 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.

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.

Other articles on Birds of Prey

  • Birds of Prey - The Martial Eagle
    A look at Africa's largest and most powerful eagle. The Martial Eagle is one of the largest Eagles in the world and this beautiful Bird of Prey is found only in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Birds of Prey - The California Condor
    Back from the brink of extinction, the California Condor is making a dramatic comeback. Learn everything you need to know about this Bird of Prey and it's remarkable recovery.
  • Birds of Prey - The Snowy Owl
    Everything you need to know about the beautiful Snowy Owl. This amazing Bird of Prey is one of the largest owls in the world and certainly one of the most striking with its snowy white plumage.
  • 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

Comments

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 25, 2015:

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 from Northeast Ohio on July 25, 2015:

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 Godfirnon from Southern Iowa on September 19, 2014:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 19, 2014:

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 Godfirnon from Southern Iowa on September 19, 2014:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on January 08, 2013:

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

Maree Michael Martin from Northwest Washington on an Island on January 08, 2013:

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

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on October 23, 2012:

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 from Seattle, WA on October 22, 2012:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on October 22, 2012:

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.

C E Clark from North Texas on October 22, 2012:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 07, 2012:

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.

Michelle Liew from Singapore on August 07, 2012:

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!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 22, 2012:

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.

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on July 22, 2012:

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!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 22, 2012:

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 from Nepal on July 21, 2012:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 21, 2012:

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 from United Kingdom on July 21, 2012:

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

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 21, 2012:

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

Rev Bruce S Noll HMN from Asheville NC on July 20, 2012:

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

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 20, 2012:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 20, 2012:

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.

Claudia Mitchell on July 20, 2012:

Fascinating and the fun facts were great!

Suzanne Ridgeway from Dublin, Ireland on July 20, 2012:

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:-)

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 20, 2012:

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.

Terrye Toombs from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. on July 20, 2012:

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

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 19, 2012:

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

Jasmine on July 19, 2012:

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!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 19, 2012:

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 from US on July 19, 2012:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 19, 2012:

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.

Mary Strain from The Shire on July 19, 2012:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 19, 2012:

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

Barbara Purvis Hunter from Florida on July 19, 2012:

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