Great Horned Owl

The Facts

  • Genus/Species: Bubo virginianus
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Location: From Arctic tundra to tropical rainforests to deserts in America


Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl

The Scoop

The Owl with Horns

The Great Horned Owl lives in woodlands, along cliffs and canyons and at the edge of forests, in North, Central and South America. It gets its name from the large tufts of feathers on its head that look like horns. These tufts of feathers are called plumicorns. They are not horns or ears. The Great Horned owl has big cat-like eyes and brown, white, gray, and black markings that look like the bark of a tree. It can blend in easily with its surroundings. It has very good eyesight and excellent hearing.  On the faces of Great Horned owls there are very short feathers in a rounded pattern that form a facial disk. This facial dish acts like a satellite dish, receiving sounds and funneling them to the ears, which are hidden beneath feathers on the sides of the skull.

The Great Horned owl is about two feet tall, and its wings, when spread out, are four feet wide. It flies silently because of its loosely packed feathers, so that its prey never hears it coming.  It hunts mostly at night and its diet is made up of small mammals like mice, rabbits, squirrels and skunks, as well as birds like ducks and quail. It has a rather yucky habit of throwing up the undigested parts, like bones and fur, in owl pellets! 

Great Horned owls are not endangered in any way. They are commonly seen, and as they adapt well to change, they do well in most areas.


Did You Know?

  • Great Horned owls do not build their own nests, but use nests built by hawks, crows, magpies, herons, or other large birds.
  • Great Horned owls have an easily identifiable call that goes “Who…who…who”.
  • Owls’ eyes look forward in a fixed position.  In order to see left or right, the owl must turn its entire head.
  • Owls can rotate their heads, almost all the way round- but not fully!


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