The quintessential storybook owl, the Great Horned Owl is one of the most majestic owl species out there. It is known for its deep hooting vocalization, its intimidating yellow-eyed stare and earlike long tufts. These tufts give them their name ‘Great Horned’. In this article on Great Horned Owl facts, we are going to learn how it looks like, where it lives and what it eats. To be honest, this article will be incomplete as there will be much more to say and we will cover the remaining in a different article. So, let us begin…
Scientific Classification of Great Horned Owl:
|Binomial Name||Bubo virginianus|
Great Horned Owl Facts: 1-5 | Description
1. The Great Horned Owl, in the Central America and South America, is the heaviest known extant owl species. However, in North America, it holds the second position with the heaviest owl being the Snowy Owl.
2. The Great Horned Owl is designed for camouflage. The underpart (including the chest area) of the owl is usually lighter in color with horizontal barrings that are brown in color. The upper wings as well as the upper parts of the bird are usually mottled brown in color and have heavy and dark complex markings.
3. A white patch is often found on the neck that may run down as a streak all the way down to the middle of the breast.
4. The overall color of the Great Horned Owl can vary from region to region. In particular, those in the subarctic region have light-buff and washed out color. Those living in North America’s Pacific Coast, in most of South America and in Central America are known for having dark brownish color with blackish blotching.
5. The skin of the Great Horned Owl is black and so are its feet. The feet are however always obscured by the feathers. The feathers on the feet of this species are second-longest among all known owl species.
Great Horned Owl Facts: 6-10 | Description
6. The talons and the bill of the Great Horned Owl are of dark gunmetal-gray color. The facial disc (which is present in all Great Horned Owls) can vary in color depending on the region. The color ranges from gray to brown to reddish. The facial disc is demarcated by a dark rim that eventually culminate into blacking and bold side brackets.
7. The so-called ‘horns’ of the species are actually tufts of feathers that are technically known as ‘plumicorns’. The functions of the tuft are not yet completely understood by scientists. While scientists actually differ in view about the function of the tufts, they actually agree on the fact that the tufts do not have any role or function in hearing.
8. It is however theorized that these tufts are designed for providing visual cues in both socio-sexual interactions and territorial interactions with other owls.
9. Coming to the physical characteristics, the Great Horned Owl have a barrel-shaped and heavy body build. They have very broad wings and have a large head. It is interesting to note that the size of the species can vary from region to region. For instance, those living in California and Texas are the smallest while those living in Ontario and Alaska are the largest.
10. The average length of the adult Great Horned Owl is 22 inches or 55 centimeters but it can range between 17 inches to 25 inches (43 centimeters to 64 centimeters). The average wingspan of the species is 122 centimeters or 48 inches but it can range anywhere between 91 centimeters to 153 centimeters.
Great Horned Owl Facts: 11-15 | Description
11. It is interesting to note that the female Great Horned Owls are a bit bigger in size compared to the males. The females have a mean body weight of 3.545 lbs or 1,608 grams. The mean body weight of males is 2.698 lbs or 1,224 grams.
12. The bill of this species is hard and inflexible. The bill measures anywhere between 1.3 inches to 2 inches or 3.3 centimeters to 5.2 centimeters. Interestingly, the exposed portion of the bill (known as the culmen) measures anywhere between 0.83 inches to 1.3 inches or 2.1 centimeters to 3.3 centimeters.
13. Feathers located on the sides of the head are known for covering or concealing the outer ear opening of the Great Horned Owls. It is interesting to note that the right ear of the species is slightly smaller than the left ear.
14. The eyes of the Great Horned Owl are really big but are slightly smaller than that of humans. The owls are not capable of turning their eyes. In order to look in other direction, they need to turn their heads. They are capable of rotating their neck up to 270°. The iris of the eyes are always yellow except for South American Great Horned Owl which is known to have amber-colored iris.
15. Did you know that the Great Horned Owls have really long necks though it doesn’t appear to be so? They have 14 cervical vertebrae (humans have only 7). They keep their neck squished into an ‘S’ shape, which remains covered with their fluffy neck feathers, which explains why it appears that they don’t have long necks.
Great Horned Owl Facts: 16-20 | Habitat and Range
16. The range of the Great Horned Owl is quite diverse. It can be found from all the way up in subarctic North America to rest of North America down to Central America and all the way down to South America to the upland regions of Argentina, Peru and Bolivia. That’s where their range ends. From the point where the range of Great Horned Owl ends in South America, the range of Magellanic Horned Owl begins and continues all the way down to the tip of South America.
17. When it comes to habitat, the Great Horned Owl is not really a picky type. It can take shelter just about anywhere from tree tops to open areas to even parks where humans are abundant.
18. Barns, Churches, building tops, deserted buildings, croplands, pastures, wetlands, fields and even rainforests etc. all are part of their habitat. They can even be found in cities!
19. It is however interesting to note that they don’t really prefer to be in Amazon Rainforest. They can however take residence in trees bordering mixed forests, coniferous forests, deciduous forests, tropical rainforests, prairie, pampas, deserts, mountainous areas, rocky coasts, subarctic tundra, mangrove swamp forests and urban areas.
20. They prefer not to be around humans but quick loss of habitat and environmental changes often force them to be in areas close to human habitat. This habitat loss is also gradually thinning out their population from various areas.
Great Horned Owl Facts: 21-25 | Hunting Habits
21. Great Horned Owls are known for eating way more food compared to other owl species. They are usually nocturnal hunters and their peak hunting time is between 8:30 PM to 12:00 AM. The hunting time can again pick up between 4:30 AM and sunrise.
22. Their eyes are highly adapted to nocturnal hunting as they have a wide and almost binocular point of view. They have predominantly rod retina and large corneal surface, allowing them to have excellent view during the night.
23. At night, they can spend a lot of time searching for prey. They are usually very patient and will wait for the prey to come out in the open. Though the Great Horned Owl is usually a nocturnal hunter, it is also known to hunt in broad daylight.
24. Their hunting style is quite raptor-like as they are raptors. They will spot their prey from a high position and then pursue the prey over meadows, woodland edges, wetlands, open waters and various other habitats.
25. When hunting for very small prey, the owls are known for walking on ground simply for stalking the prey around various obstacles and bushes.
Great Horned Owl Facts: 26-30 | Food or Diet
26. Their diet is really diverse and these birds are not at all shy of adapting to various diets. They mostly eat birds and mammals.
27. They are very formidable hunters and can take on and kill prey that’s bigger than their own size. However, unlike in case of small prey that they can swallow whole, they tear off the large prey into small bits using their powerful talons and then consume.
28. Their talons are extremely powerful and they severe the spine of large prey using their powerful grip to instantly paralyze the victim.
29. They mostly eat tiny rodents, scorpions, mice, hares, geese, raptors, American Coots and rabbits. However, they are also known to feed on bats, skunks, prairie dogs, marmots, woodchucks, squirrels, crows, hawks, doves, ravens, starlings, rails, grebes, mergansers, loons, ducks, porcupines, gophers, rats, shrews, moles, voles, etc.
30. They are also eating insects, reptiles, invertebrates, fish and sometimes, carrion. They live only and only on non-vegetarian diet. They are strictly carnivores.
This completes our article on Great Horned Owl Facts spanning over their description, habitat, hunting style and diet. We are not quite done. We need to speak about their nesting habits, their reproduction, their behavior and their conservation status. We will cover this aspects in our next article on Great Horned Owl facts. Until then, feel free to browse through our website.