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Great Horned Owl (Bubo Virginiamus)

The great horned owl is one of the most widely distributed owls in the world. If you’re lucky enough to see a great horned owl in the wild, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity – they’re something to behold.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at these majestic creatures and discuss some of the things that make them unique. So if you’re interested in learning more about great horned owls, read on!

Scientific Classification

Scientific NameBubo Virginianus


Common NameGreat horned owl
Other NamesTiger owl
Name of YoungOwlets
Number of Species+20
Social BehaviorMonogamous
Group NameParliament
PreyRaptors, other owls, rodents, frogs, scorpion
Favorite FoodMammals
Activity PatternNocturnal
Biggest ThreatHumans
PredatorsGolden eagles, Northern goshawks, humans
DistributionContinental United States, Central America, South America
HabitatSuburbia, forests, farmlands, savanna
Est. Population Size6 million
Conservation StatusLeast concern
Lifespan10-25 years

Physical Characteristics

Length17-25 inches
Weight3.2 pounds
ColorLarge tufts of feathers on its head that looks like horns
Skin typeFeathers
Wingspan4.6 feet
Top speed40 mph

Great Horned Owl Pictures

Have you ever seen a Great Horned Owl? They are massive birds with big, round eyes and a deep hooting voice. You can often see them perched in trees or even hunting along roadsides.

A great horned owl staring

5 Great Horned Owls Facts

Great horned owls have a powerful build and can be quite ferocious when threatened. In addition to its hunting skills, there are a few other interesting facts about these ferocious birds of prey that you might want to know.

  1. Female great horned owls are larger than males[1]. The females are typically about 25% bigger than the males. But male great horned owls have a deeper tone, making them more distinct.
  2. Great horned owls can not turn their eyes. As with many other owls, they can not turn their eyes. Instead, they rotate their heads when looking around. They can turn their necks 270°.
  3. Gret horned owls have numerous adaptations for hunting in the dark. These adaptations include large, forward-facing eyes; soft, downy feathers that allow them to fly silently; and strong talons that can kill prey instantly.
  4. Great horned owls mate for life. Once a pair of great horned owls have found each other, they will typically stay together for the rest of their lives. By mating for life, the owls can ensure that both parents are always there to help raise the young.
  5. Great horned owls swallow their prey whole. Unlike other owls who tear their prey into smaller pieces, great horned owls swallow their prey whole. This allows them to consume larger prey items.

Great Horned Owl Classification and Evolution

The great horned owl is a member of the genus Bubo, which originated in the Americas. The great horned owl is believed to have undergone a few structural changes since the Pleistocene period, but the reason for these changes is unknown.[2]

The great horned owl is one of the largest owls in the world and has distinctive “horns” on its head. These horns are not used for fighting. The true purpose is yet to be understood by humans.

Great horned owls are closest related to the snowy owls. Genetic testing and fossils confirm this. Snowy owls and great horned owls divided in Eurasia, where the snowy owls spread throughout the Arctic and northernmost North America.[3]

Great Horned Owl

Types of Great Horned Owls

There are more than 20 subspecies of great horned owls. However, some of them aren’t true subspecies and are only samples of clinal variations.

Common/ Eastern Great Horned OwlEastern United States, Canada
South American Great Horned OwlColombia, Guyanas, Brazil, Uruguay, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, Paraguay
Northern/ Sub-arctic Great Horned OwlMackenzie, British Columbia region east to the southern Hudson Bay
California great horned owlCentral and southern California west of the Sierra Nevada, Northwestern Baja California, Mexico
Coastal great horned owlPacific coast from southeastern Alaska to northern California
North Andean great horned owl Colombia to northwestern Peru.
Desert great horned owl San Joaquin Valley, southeastern California, southern Utah
Yucatán great horned owl Yucatán Peninsula
Baja California great horned owlSouthern Baja California, Mexico.
Northeastern great horned owleastern Canada
Rocky Mountains great horned owlIdaho,  Arizona, New Mexico, and the Guadalupe Mountains of Texas

Related: Types of Owls

Great Horned Owl Size and Appearance

The great horned owl is a large owl that can weigh up to four pounds. They have brown feathers with white spots and a large head with two horns (from which they get their name).

Being one of the biggest and heaviest owls, the great horned owl is a large species of owl. They have a wingspan of up to five feet, and their eyes are very large. Their tails are short, being around seven to ten inches long.

Most great horned owls are either grey or brown, but will most often also have white and black spots throughout their plumage.

They are impressive in size, and their distinctive appearance makes them easy to identify. The large horns are their most unique physical attribute.

The legs, feet, and talons of these animals are very powerful. Their feet can reach up to eight inches (20 cm) from talon to talon, and they can grip with a force of 30 pounds.

What Do Great Horned Owls Eat (1)

Great Horned Owl Habitat & Distribution

Great horned owls are one of the most widespread owl species in the world, living in North America, South America, and parts of Europe and Asia. They can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, farmlands, and suburban areas.

Great horned owls typically nest in tree cavities or abandoned buildings[4]. You’ll often find them building their nests in juniper, cottonwood, and beech among others.

Their mating grounds can be found from the subarctic of North America all the way down to South America. These owls are the second-most widely distributed owls next to barn owls, a tribute to their adaptability.

Great Horned Owl Behaviour

Great horned owls are territorial animals. They stake out an area and defend it against other owls. These birds are also monogamous, meaning they only have one mate for life.

Great horned owls are nocturnal, which means they are active at night. This allows them to take advantage of a wide variety of prey items. They have developed adaptations for nighttime hunting, such as enhanced night vision and stealth flight.

Their general behavior is typical to most owls and birds of prey. They’re territorial, driven to hunt, and are opportunistic hunters.

Overall, great horned owls are fascinating animals with a variety of interesting behaviors. Thanks to their adaptability and prevalence, they play an important role in the ecosystem.

Great Horned Owl hunting

Great Horned Owl Diet

The great horned owls are opportunistic predators and will eat a variety of prey items. Their diet includes small mammals, such as rabbits and squirrels, as well as birds, including waterfowl, songbirds, and raptors.

Great horned owls eat anything they can get their talons on. They’re primitive in their prey selection, as they simply hunt what’s around. While primarily hunting small mammals, they also eat birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects[5]. They have even been known to scavenge on carrion.

The great horned owl is a very adaptable predator that’s why they can survive in a variety of habitats. Great horned owls usually hunt during the night, but they can also be active during the day.

They use their excellent hearing and vision to locate prey items. Once an owl locates its prey, it will swoop down and attempt to seize it with its powerful talons. The owl will then proceed to kill the prey with its sharp beak.

Related: What Do Great Horned Owls Eat?

Great Horned Owl Predators and Threats

The great horned owl has few predators, with golden eagles and northern goshawks occasionally preying on them. However, the main threat to their populations comes from anticoagulant rodenticides and pesticides, which can poison the owls.

These poisons can kill the owls, or make them vulnerable to other threats. As a result, the population of great horned owls is declining in many areas. As a result, the great horned owl is listed as a species of concern by the IUCN.

Great Horned Owl Life Cycle, and Lifespan

The great horned owl is a long-lived bird, with a lifespan of up to 20 years in the wild. In captivity, they can live for up to 25 years.

The female lays two to four eggs, and the chicks hatch after about 28 days[6]. The young owls stay with the parents for up to 10 weeks. Great horned owls only use one nest per year until they build another nest.

Great Horned Owl Population

Great horned owls have been listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN. There are currently 6 million great horned owls globally. Although the population is considered healthy, there are some threats to the species.

The main threat to great horned owls is habitat loss. They require large areas of forest or other natural habitats to survive. Development and deforestation can reduce the amount of suitable habitat available for owls.

Great horned owls are also susceptible to hunting and trapping. Fortunately, great horned owls are fairly adaptable and can thrive in areas that have been heavily impacted by humans.

Great Horned Owl FAQs

How do great horned owls hunt?

When hunting small mammals, great horned owls typically sit and wait for their prey to come close. Once they get close enough, the owl will fly out and catch it. They are also known to perch on a high spot and watch for prey to come by before swooping down on it.

How fast is a great horned owl?

A great horned owl can fly up to 40 mph.

What kingdom do great horned owls belong to?

Great horned owls are a part of the kingdom Animalia. They are in the class Aves, which is the group of animals that have wings and feathers. Owls are in the order Strigiformes, which means they have forward-facing eyes, a hooked bill, and membranous ears.

Do great horned owls attack humans?

Great horned owls have been known to attack people on occasion, but it is important to note that these birds are usually shy and timid creatures. They only attack humans when threatened.

Do great horned owls lay eggs?

Yes, great horned owls do lay eggs. The average clutch size is around three to four eggs. Additionally, the eggs are incubated by the female owl for around 28 days. The young owls will then fledge from the nest around two months after hatching.

What is special about the great horned owl?

The great horned owl is one of the largest owl species in North America. They are easily recognizable by their large size, brown plumage, and prominent “horns” on their head. What makes the great horned owl unique is its wide range of habitats. They can be found in forests, grasslands, deserts, and even urban areas. They are also one of the most adaptable owl species, able to survive in a variety of climates.

About Kaitlin Mullins

Birds are plenty, and they can be hard to keep track of. Thankfully, Katilin Mullins has taken charge of these. With plenty of free time spent bird watching, she’s a true expert on these intriguing animals.

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