Great Horned Owls are the fiercest and most powerful of the common owls. They are easily recognized by the feather tufts on their head that resemble horns or ears, sometimes called cat owls because of their catlike ears, eyes, shape of head, and appearance when huddled on the nest. The upper parts of the owl's body are sooty brown with gray-brown mottling. They have dark underparts which contrast sharply with their white throat. The coloration makes them well camoflaged and difficult to spot in the forest. They measure about 50 cm in length and have a wingspan of 140 cm from wing tip to wing tip. Males and females are similar in size.
Great Horned Owls have a large geographic range. They are native to both the Nearctic and Neotropical regions. They live throughout the forests of North, Central, and South America, from the Arctic regions in the North to the Straits of Magellan in the South.
Great Horned Owls can be found in dense woodlands of hardwoods and conifers, along cliffs and rocky canyons, and in forest openings.
The courtship of Great Horned Owls usually begins in late January or early February. After mating these owls will use the abandoned nest of another bird, usually a hawk or crow. One female usually lays 2 or 3 eggs, and rarely as many as 5. The male and the female will both incubate the eggs, which means both parents take turns sitting on the nest to keep the eggs warm until they hatch. The chicks hatch in about 4 weeks.
Both parents incubate and feed the chicks. Great Horned Owls are protective parents, guarding the young until they are fully grown. The young are old enough to leave the family (fledge) about 7 weeks after they hatch.
A Great Horned Owl banded in the United States lived at least 27 years and 7 months. Most Great Horned Owls live much shorter lives, probably around 13-15 years in the wild.
Great Horned Owls are powerful, swift, and graceful birds of prey. Adult birds spend the majority of their time hunting. They can see during the day, but have even better vision at night. Their light, soft feathers give them silent flight. This good eyesight, silent flight, and the fact that their prey is most active at night make it most advantageous for Great Horned Owls to hunt at night.
When there are young in the nest, Great Horned Owls are known to be very hostile. These owls have been observed flying near intruders snapping their bills and hooting.
Great Horned Owls communicate with sounds and body movements, such as hooting, hissing, calling, fluffing feathers, posture, and bill snapping. They have extraordinarily good eyesight in low light conditions and can hear very well. Their ears are not located exactly opposite each other on the head of these owls. This allows Great Horned Owls to better pinpoint the location of sounds, such as the sound of a mouse running.
Great horned owls hunt at night and capture a variety of small mammals. Their prey includes eastern cottontail rabbits, woodchucks, mice, rats, squirrels, and skunks. Great horned owls are also known to eat birds such as ducks, mourning doves and pigeons, bobwhites, and occasionally geese or turkeys.
Owls as a group eat their prey whole and regurgitate the unwanted parts (bones, fur, and feathers) in pellets, called owl pellets. By looking at the contents of owl pellets we can learn about the food habits of particular owl species.
Very few animals hunt adult great horned owls. As young in the nest they may be preyed on by large nest predators, such as raccoons. Young owls may be taken by other large, predatory birds, such as red-tailed hawks and Cooper's hawks.
Great Horned Owls are top predators.
Great Horned Owls occasionally prey on domestic poultry, such as ducks and chickens. They are also known to sometimes take domestic cats.
Great Horned Owls control harmful rodent populations throughout their range.
Great Horned Owls are fairly common throughout their range. They are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
uses sound to communicate
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.
an animal that mainly eats meat
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.
parental care is carried out by females
union of egg and spermatozoan
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
fertilization takes place within the female's body
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
parental care is carried out by males
Having one mate at a time.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
breeding is confined to a particular season
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
uses sight to communicate