The Great Horned Owl

August 10, 2014

The Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) is an adaptable bird with a vast range. It is sometimes called the Tiger Owl, Hoot Owls, Cat Owls or Winged Tigers. It was first seen in the Virginia colonies and it got its species name “virginianus” from the Latinized form of the colonies’ name. This owl is the heaviest owl in Central and South America and the second heaviest owl in North America.



The Great Horned Owl is easily recognized by its earlike tufts, intimidating yellow-eyed stare and deep hooting voice. It is the owl depicted in the storybooks and is one of the most common birds in America equally at home in the deserts, wetlands, forests, grassland cities, backyards and almost any other semi-open habitat between the Arctic and the tropics.



The female Great Horned Owl is slightly bigger than the male, an average adult weighs about 3 pounds has a length of 22 in with a wingspan of 49 in. There is a considerable color variation of the owl’s plumage between subspecies but the body shape remains the same. They are heavy built, with barrel shaped bodies that has broad rounded wings and large heads. The facial discs are rusty brown to ocher-buff, paler around the eyes with a prominent blackish rim on each side and there is a white patch on the throat.


The iris is yellow except in the amber-eyed South American Great Horned Owl. The upper parts are mottled brown and the underparts are light brown. The feet and talons are slightly feathered and are large and powerful. The overall color tone of the Great Horned Owl varies regionally from sooty to pale. They are also natural predators to prey heavier than themselves like the skunks and porcupines.



Great Horned Owls have adapted to many different places and climates. You can find this widespread owl in woods, particularly young woods interspersed with fields or other open areas. Its breeding habitat extends from subarctic North America throughout most of North and Central America then going down to South America.

The Great Horned Owl is nocturnal and activity begins at dusk but in some regions may be seen in late afternoon. Both sexes may be very aggressive towards intruders when nesting. They hunt by perching on poles watching for prey. From their high perch they would dive down to the ground with folded wings before snatching up their prey. The prey almost always dies immediately when grasped by its large and powerful talons. Common preys of the Great Horned Owl are medium-sized mammals such as rabbits and hares, moderately sized rodents such as squirrels, mice, rats and voles.

Breeding season is in January and February when the male and female hoot to each other. Unlike other birds they do not build their own nest instead they utilized nest from other birds like the crow, hawk or heron. They sometimes use the nests of squirrel’s nests, abandoned buildings or artificial platform. Two to four eggs are laid which are incubated by the female for 26 to 35 days. For 6 to 7 weeks, the young would start roaming the nest and other branches, they don’t get to fly well until they are 9 to 10 weeks old.


A Great Horned Owl in captivity is known to live up to 29 to 38 years and wild owls can live up to 13 years. Most deaths are related to man through shooting, traps and road kill. Their only natural enemy is the Northern Goshawks over nest disputes. The Great Horned Owl is not considered a globally threatened species.


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