Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus

Kingdom:  Animalia

Phylum:  Chordata

Class:  Aves

Order:  Strigiformes

Family:  Strigidae

Genus:  Bubo

Species:  virginianus

Status

Great-horned owls are widespread and common.  They adapt well to change and are doing well in most areas.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not reference this species.  International Union for the Conservation of Nature Status: Least Concern.

Description

Great-horned owls are large, powerful owls with prominent ear-tufts, facial disks, and bold yellow eyes.  Their plumage is a mix of mottled brown with white-and-black barring, with some white at the throat.  There is much variation in the darkness and shade of these colors across their range.

Habitat and Range

They live throughout North and South America and are year-round residents of Nevada.  Great-horned owls are known as supreme generalists because they are found in more varied habitats than any other owl in North America.  They often use wooded habitats, especially during the breeding season when trees or heavy brush provide cover.  However they also nest in cliffs in arid areas far from trees.  Their preferred habitat is open or fragmented woodland with treeless areas nearby.

Diet

Great-horned owls are opportunistic generalists, taking advantage of whatever prey is available.  They have the widest prey base of any North American owl.  Most of their diet consists of rabbits, mice, rats, skunks, squirrels, and other raptors.  To a lesser extent, Great-horned owls also eat reptiles, amphibians, and even large insects.  Great-horned owls may consider small pets as prey also due to their opportunistic and generalist hunting behaviors.

Reproduction

The great-horned owl is one of the earliest nesting species of birds in North America.   Courtship begins in January or early February.  They do not build their own nests, but use nests built by hawks, crows, herons, or other large birds.  They don’t even add new material.  The female incubates 1-4 eggs for 30-37 days while the male brings her food.  The young remain in the nest for about 6 weeks, and then climb out onto nearby branches.  They begin taking short flights at 7 weeks, and can fly well at 9-10 weeks.  Both parents feed and tend the young for several months, often as late as September or October.

Behavior

Like most owls, great-horned owls have keen hearing and keen vision in low light, both great adaptations for hunting at night.  These powerful hunters commonly use a sit-and-wait approach.  They’ll watch from a perch then swoop silently down on passing prey, seizing it with their talons.

Wow!

  • Owls can see approximately 35 times better than humans in low light situations.
  • They have little to no sense of smell.
  • They can turn their heads 270 degrees due to fourteen neck bones (humans only have seven).