Great Horned Owl

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Common Name: Great Horned Owl
Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus

Size: 18 -25 inches (46-63.5 cm) Wingspan: 36 -60 inches (91-152 cm)

Habitat: North and South America; found throughout North America from the northern treeline and then in Central and South America. They are resident year-round, however, birds living in the northern part of the species' range may migrate south. Found in dense forests, deserts and plains to city parks. They have been known to inhabit the same area as the diurnal red-tailed hawk.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 5,000,000+. Most mortality is related to man - shootings, traps, road kills and electrocutions. The only natural enemies are other Great Horned Owls and, occasionally, Northern Goshawks during disputes over nest sites. Peregrine Falcons have also been observed attacking Great Horned Owls.

Diet: Rabbits and hares are preferred prey; Mammalian prey includes all coexisting rodents, squirrels, mink, skunks, raccoons, armadillos, porcupines, shrews, moles, muskrats, and bats. They will take small domestic dogs and cats. Bird prey includes all other Owls (except Snowy Owl), grouse, woodpeckers, crows, turkeys, pigeons, Red-tailed Hawks, bitterns, Great Blue Heron, ducks, swans, gulls, etc. Reptiles include snakes, turtles, lizards, and young alligators. Amphibians include frogs, toads, and salamanders. Other foods include fish, large insects, scorpions, centipedes, crayfish, worms, spiders, and road killed animals. They hunt by perching on snags and poles and watching for prey, or by gliding slowly above the ground. From high perches they dive down to the ground with wings folded, before snatching prey.

Nesting: Nesting season is in January or February when the males and females hoot to each other. When close they bow to each other, with drooped wings. Mutual bill rubbing and preening also occurs. They do not build a nest of their own but utilize the nests of other birds such as the hawk, crow and heron. They may also use squirrel nests, hollows in trees, rocky caves, clumps of witches broom, abandoned buildings, or on artificial platforms. They are extremely aggressive when defending the nest and will continue to attack until the intruder is killed or driven off. Normally, two to four eggs are laid and incubated by the female only for 26-35 days. Young start roaming from the nest onto nearby branches at 6 to 7 weeks, when they are called "branchers", but cannot fly well until 9 to 10 weeks old. They are fed for another few weeks as they are slowly weaned. Families remain loosely associated during summer before young disperse in the autumn. Adults tend to remain near their breeding areas year-round while juveniles disperse widely, over 250 km (150 miles) in the autumn. Territories are maintained by the same pair for as many as 8 consecutive years, however, these Owls are solitary in nature, only staying with their mate during the nesting season. Average home ranges in various studies have been shown to be approximately 2.5 square kms (1 square mile).

Cool Facts: The Great Horned Owl was described in 1788 by Johann Gmelin. Its Latin name comes from where it was first seen, the Virginia colonies (originally named for Queen Elizabeth I, the "Virgin Queen"). Its common name is derived from tufts of feathers that appear to be "horns". It is also known as the Hoot Owl, Cat Owl and Winged Tiger.

The Great Horned Owls’ ear tufts have nothing to do with hearing at all. All owls have asymmetrical ears; one located low on the skull, the other toward the top. The position of the ears helps the owl to hear in stereo and easily locate any noise it hears.

A Great Horned Owl is powerful enough to take prey 2 to 3 times heavier than itself. Great Horned Owls have been seen wading into water to snatch frogs and fish. They have been known to walk into chicken coops to take domestic fowl.

Found in Songbird ReMix Owls of the World Volume 1

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