Great Horned Owl

Earliest Date: Oct 15
Latest Date: Dec 8
Peak Migration: after Nov 15

Named for its large size, and the large ear tufts that extend above the head. The tufts are not really ears—most likely, they act to camouflage the bird by breaking up its outline amidst tree branches.

Other names: Big hoot owl, cat owl, chicken owl, eagle owl, hoot owl, king owl.

Hunting habits: Feeds on just about anything from the smallest shrew to large hares and rabbits; gray, red, flying, and fox squirrels; skunks (most birds have no sense of smell); porcupines; and crows taken from their night roosts. Usually hunts at night, but can also hunt by day. Usually carries prey to a feeding roost where pellets collect.

Migrating habits: This species is usually non-migratory. However, when occasional food shortages occur within the breeding range, some individuals are forced south. It is easiest to band these birds during the first 2-3 hours of darkness, when they are flying low. As the night wears on they may well be migrating higher.

Nesting habits: Takes over an abandoned nest from a Red-tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle, heron, crow, or squirrel, or uses the hollow of a tree. Both parents incubate the eggs for 26-36 days. Young first fly 63-70 days after hatching.

Length: 45-64 cm

Wingspan: 91-153 cm

Weight: Most Great Horned Owls caught in autumn are of unknown sex; 2 known adult males averaged 1536 grams; 4 adult females averaged 2190 grams. These were undoubtedly light (i.e., food- stressed).

Life expectancy: In captivity to 29 years. One banded bird in Iowa lived 13-14 years before it was shot. Other banded birds have lived 17 years, 4 months and 20 years, 7 months. More Great Horned Owls die from shooting than any other cause.

Image Credits: Brian Lindberg