Great Horned Owl
Harry is a male which we received in 2005 from the Raptor Education Group Inc. in Antigo, WI. He has flight complications due to a partially amputated wing.
These are large, thick-bodied owls with two prominent feathered tufts on the head. The wings are broad and rounded. In flight, the rounded head and short bill combine to create a blunt-headed silhouette. Great Horned owls are mottled gray-brown, with reddish brown faces and a neat white patch on the throat. Their overall color tone varies regionally from sooty to pale. Great Horned owls have large eyes, pupils that open widely in the dark, and retinas containing many rod cells for excellent night vision. Their eyes don’t move in their sockets, but they can swivel their heads more than 180 degrees to look in any direction. They also have sensitive hearing, thanks in part to facial disc feathers that direct sound waves to their ears.
Great Horned owls range all over North American and some portions of South America.
Look for this widespread owl in woods, particularly young woods interspersed with fields or other open areas. The broad range of habitats they use include deciduous and evergreen forests, swamps, desert, tundra edges, and tropical rainforest, as well as cities, orchards, suburbs, and parks.
Clutch Size: 1–4 eggs
Number of Broods: 1 brood
Incubation Period: 30–37 days
Nestling Period: 42 days
Nests often consist of sticks and vary widely in size, depending on which species originally built the nest (usually Red-tailed hawks, other hawk species, crows, ravens, herons, or squirrels). Great Horned owls may line the nest with shreds of bark, leaves, downy feathers plucked from their own breast, fur or feathers from prey, or trampled pellets. In some areas they add no lining at all. Nests deteriorate over the course of the breeding season, and are seldom reused in later years.
In the wild: 5-15 years
In human care: 20-30 years
Great Horned owls have the most diverse diet of all North American raptors. Their prey ranges in size from tiny rodents and scorpions, to hares, raptors, geese, and skunks (Great Horned owls have a poor sense of smell, so skunks don’t bother them. Skunk spray, however, sometimes makes their feathers stick together, affecting flight abilities). They also eat much smaller items such as rodents, frogs, and scorpions. They eat mostly mammals and birds—especially rabbits, hares, mice, and American coots, but also many other species including voles, moles, shrews, rats, gophers, chipmunks, squirrels, woodchucks, marmots, prairie dogs, bats, skunks, house cats, porcupines, ducks, loons, mergansers, grebes, rails, owls, hawks, crows, ravens, doves, and starlings. They supplement their diet with reptiles, insects, fish, invertebrates, and sometimes carrion. Although they are usually nocturnal hunters, Great Horned owls sometimes hunt in broad daylight. After spotting their prey from a perch, they pursue it on the wing over woodland edges, meadows, wetlands, open water, or other habitats. They may walk along the ground to stalk small prey around bushes or other obstacles.