Great Horned Owl Trio 2007

Yellowstone National Park, Mammoth Hot Springs 2007

We caught up with this trio on the last in-park day of the trip. The adult was just snoozing away when all of sudden the branches quivered and these two balls of feathers just ambled out into view. The adult never woke! Interestingly, these Owls are found in just about any habitat throughout North America. But they do seem to prefer forested areas. Found from the Arctic tundra to the tropical rainforest, from the desert to suburban backyards, the Great Horned Owl is one of the most widespread and common owls in North America.

Size & Shape
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.

Color Pattern
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.

Behavior
Great Horned Owls are nocturnal. You may see them at dusk sitting on fence posts or tree limbs at the edges of open areas, or flying across roads or fields with stiff, deep beats of their rounded wings. Their call is a deep, stuttering series of four to five hoots.

Habitat
Look for this widespread owl in woods, particularly young woods interspersed with fields or other open areas. The broad range of habitats they use includes deciduous and evergreen forests, swamps, desert, tundra edges, and tropical rainforest, as well as cities, orchards, suburbs, and parks.

Cool Facts

  • Great Horned Owls are fierce predators that can take large prey, including raptors such as Ospreys, Peregrine Falcons, Prairie Falcons, and other owls. They also eat much smaller items such as rodents, frogs, and scorpions.
  • When clenched, a Great Horned Owl’s strong talons require a force of 28 pounds to open. The owls use this deadly grip to sever the spine of large prey.
  • If you hear an agitated group of cawing American Crows, they may be mobbing a Great Horned Owl. Crows may gather from near and far and harass the owl for hours. The crows have good reason, because the Great Horned Owl is their most dangerous predator.
  • Even though the female Great Horned Owl is larger than her mate, the male has a larger voice box and a deeper voice. Pairs often call together, with audible differences in pitch.
  • Great Horned Owls are covered in extremely soft feathers that insulate them against the cold winter weather and help them fly very quietly in pursuit of prey. Their short, wide wings allow them to maneuver among the trees of the forest.
  • 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.
  • The oldest Great Horned Owl on record was at least 28 years old when it was found in Ohio in 2005.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Horned_Owl/lifehistory

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