Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
These Owls are the largest species of Owl in North America, measuring 18 to 25 inches. They got the name "Great Horned" Owl from the two tufts of feathers on either side of their heads. The eyes are typically yellow, although before two weeks of age, Great Horned Owls have blue eyes. These Owls are also recognizable by their snowy white bib feathers. The rest of the Great Horned Owl is mottled brown, black, and gray, which serves as great dusk/dawn camouflage. The wing span measures 52 to 55 inches.
Great Horned Owls may be used in falconry but a common complaint is that they are stubborn. Many falconers complain that wild-caught Great Horned Owls are nearly impossible to train and say that imprints or eyases are necessary for good hunting. Problems also include the legality of night hunting, which varies from place to place. Also, the perch and swoop method of hunting, which the Great Horned Owl uses, makes it difficult for the Owl to be used in long chases and nearly impossible for use with dogs. Imprinted Great Horned Owls are often sociable and form strong bonds with their handlers. Great Horned Owls are powerful hunters and intelligent birds, and it is said that they are enthusiastic bird hunters as well being valuable in mammal hunting.
Great Horned Owls use the abandoned nests of other birds and line them with their own feathers, or use rocky ledges or tree hollows to lay their eggs. There has even been a report of one owl raising her family in the corner of a bald eagle's nest! To court his mate, the male Great Horned Owl uses flight displays and brings his chosen mate food. The Great Horned Owl breeding season begins in January and runs through February, and two to five dirty-white eggs are typically laid. The female Great Horned Owl incubates these eggs for about 28 to 35 days and after hatching both parents bring food to the fledglings. At about nine weeks, the young will begin to fly but will not leave the nest until they are several months of age.
Nearly ubiquitous in the experience of any American living near the wild, the Great Horned Owl will even inhabit wooded areas of cities! This distinctive and beautifully marked Owl is also used in falconry and is a keen and swift hunter.
Found throughout North and South America, the Great Horned Owl lives in all sorts of habitats, from forests to deserts to barns! They do not build nests, but use other birds' abandoned nests. Crepuscular, which means hunting in the evenings and at dawn, the Great Horned Owl waits on a perch and swoops swiftly when it hears or spies suitable prey. The call of the Great Horned Owl is very familiar, consisting of five or six low-toned "hoo-hoot"ing noises; female calls are higher pitched than male calls. The Great Horned Owl is noted for its incredible hearing and night-vision, and though they are not migratory birds, individuals are often noted for wandering seemingly aimlessly over enormous distances. The Great Horned Owl has often been described as having a cat-like personality: self-interested, aloof and independent though friendly.
The Great Horned Owl ranges throughout North and South America in nearly all biomes save those with few trees, as these are necessary in its hunting technique. It is one of two species in the United States who may be trapped at any age, as age in Great Horned Owls and American Kestrels are difficult to determine.
These Owls have a reputation for eating nearly anything that moves, though they prefer rats, mice and rabbits. Crawfish, lizards and frogs are not uncommon. Instances of Great Horned Owls eating skunks, geese, hawks and cats have been reported!