Bird GuideOwlsGreat Horned Owl

At a Glance

Found almost throughout North America and much of South America is this big owl. Aggressive and powerful in its hunting (sometimes known by nicknames such as 'tiger owl'), it takes prey as varied as rabbits, hawks, snakes, and even skunks, and will even attack porcupines, often with fatal results for both prey and predator. Great Horned Owls begin nesting very early in the north, and their deep hoots may be heard rolling across the forest on mid-winter nights.
Category
Owls
Conservation
Low Concern
Habitat
Coasts and Shorelines, Desert and Arid Habitats, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, High Mountains, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Tundra and Boreal Habitats, Urban and Suburban Habitats
Region
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Population
5.700.000

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

No regular migration, but individuals may wander long distances in fall and winter, some of them moving southward.

Description

25" (64 cm). W. 4' 7 (1.4 m). Large size, conspicuous "ear" tufts, white throat, horizontal bars on belly. Compare to smaller Long-eared Owl. Downy young (like those of other owls) are whitish at first.
Color
Brown, Gray, Red, Yellow
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Series of low, sonorous, far-carrying hoots, hoo, hoo-hoo, hoo, hoo, with second and third notes shorter than the others.

Habitat

Forests, woodlots, streamsides, open country. Found in practically all habitats in North America, from swamps to deserts to northern coniferous forest near treeline. In breeding season avoids tundra and unbroken grassland, since it requires some trees or heavy brush for cover.

Behavior

Eggs

2-3, sometimes 1-5, rarely 6. Dull whitish. Incubation mostly by female, 28-35 days. Young: Both parents take part in providing food for young owls. Young may leave nest and climb on nearby branches at 5 weeks, can fly at about 9-10 weeks; tended and fed by parents for up to several months.

Young

Both parents take part in providing food for young owls. Young may leave nest and climb on nearby branches at 5 weeks, can fly at about 9-10 weeks; tended and fed by parents for up to several months.

Feeding Behavior

Hunts mostly at night, sometimes at dusk. Watches from high perch, then swoops down to capture prey in its talons. Has extremely good hearing and good vision in low light conditions. In north in winter, may store uneaten prey, coming back later to thaw out frozen carcass by "incubating" it.

Diet

Varied, mostly mammals and birds. Mammals make up majority of diet in most regions. Takes many rats, mice, and rabbits, also ground squirrels, opossums, skunks, many others. Eats some birds (especially in north), up to size of geese, ducks, hawks, and smaller owls. Also eats snakes, lizards, frogs, insects, scorpions, rarely fish.

Nesting

May begin nesting very early in north (late winter), possibly so that young will have time to learn hunting skills before next winter begins. In courtship, male performs display flight, also feeds female. Nest: Typically uses old nest of other large bird, such as hawk, eagle, crow, heron, usually 20-60' above ground; also may nest on cliff ledge, in cave, in broken-off tree stump, sometimes on ground. Adds little or no nest material, aside from feathers at times.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Widespread and common, numbers apparently holding up well in most areas.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Great Horned Owl. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Great Horned Owl

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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