Great Horned Owl


Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus

Great Horned Owl

Description: Despite its name, the great horned owl doesn’t actually have horns. Instead, it has tufts of feathers on either side of its head that resemble horns or ears. Its feathers are brown to gray, except for the throat which is white. Great horned owls have a wingspan of approximately 1.4 meters and weigh 3 pounds.

Diet: Modern birds don’t have teeth to chew with, so owls eat their prey whole and then later regurgitate pellets of indigestible material. They feed mostly on small mammals and others birds and are one of the only animals that includes skunk in their regular diet. Owls have many fantastic adaptations that make them great birds of prey. Their sense of hearing is so acute that they can detect a mouse stepping on a twig from a distance of 23 meters! Their eyes are so large that they cannot move them back and forth like humans. Instead, they must turn their heads to look in any direction. Owls can move their heads up to 270 degrees (a three quarter turn) to look in different directions.

Habitat: The great horned owl is a solitary bird that lives in forests, canyons, and clearings.

Range: The great horned owl is found throughout the continental U.S., as well as in Alaska. Its geographic range extends southward into Mexico and Central and South America.

Life History and Reproduction: Courtship begins in January or February between a pair of mating great horned owls. Both parents incubate the eggs until they hatch at four weeks. The offspring are protected by the parents until they’ve reached maturity at an age of one to two months.

Fun Fact: Another unique adaptation of owls is silent flight. Most birds have rigid feathers that make “wooshing” noises when they fly. Owls, on the other hand, have softer feathers that give them the ability to fly silently and sneak up on prey.

Conservation status: There has been some animosity toward great horned owls because of their tendency to prey upon poultry. However, it is also recognized that they are beneficial to humans because they control rodent populations. Great horned owls do not have a special conservation status.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology 
University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web 
San Diego Zoo Animal Bytes 
NatureServe Explorer


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