The Great Horned Owl
B. v. Virginianus - the Common Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owls Live All Across the Americas
The great horned owls are ultimate Americans. From half way to the northernmost portions of Alaska and Canada, all the way down to the south Amazon basin, you'll find the great horned owls of the Americas. There are lots of humans living within the same territories where the great horned owls are found. Great horned owls demand and are deserving of respect, and if you don't think so, try getting at some or one of the owl's eggs. These owls are the only known bird of prey to have ever killed a human being. Yes, the silly dead human tried to get some owl eggs; bad decision, that.
The great horned owls are predators. Ever hear of a predator that doesn't protect its young or its territory, or itself? No, you have not. Great horned owls can and do attack humans when they feel threatened, and they should do so too. Humans tend to not much respect each other, much less other earthlings. Disrespect great horned owls at your own peril. The attacks make the news when they occur. Here's a helpful hint, the great horned owl is liable to see your behavior as disrespectful or threatening even when it isn't. The picture below is of a man who was collecting rabbits from his snares in the woods. Perhaps the owl recognized the human as a threat to his diet? Owls aren't stupid, you know.
Victim of a Great Horned Owl Attack
Great Horned Owls Will Attack You, so Beware of Them
All predators are territorial, and the great horned owl is no different. These owls are known to at times dive bomb humans. If you know good and well you are in an area where owls are attacking, then you should carry an umbrella. When it is raining owl talons, yes, an umbrella, thin and simple as one is, can provide some deterrence.
The great horned owl's talons are the dangerous thing, that and the fact you won't be looking for one when one is looking to injure you. Five hundred pounds per square inch is the pressure said owl's talons can exert against your skin. Losing an eye is certainly within the realm of possibilities. The strength of the great horned owl's talons is comparable to that of a golden eagle, or to that of a German shepherd's bite.
It Is Very Illegal to Harm or Possess a Great Horned Owl Without a License to Do So
It is illegal for you, for me, and for the largest part of the population to possess a great horned owl, or any part of one. Obviously, it is illegal to kill a great horned owl. These owls are federally protected. We're talking felony charges here. You do not want a felony record. Now, that all said, you have every right to protect yourself from a great horned owl, you just don't have the right to kill one outside the realm of an incident where one is actually attacking you or someone with you. While owl attacks do happen - it's probably not a thing you should worry your little head over.
Me? Heck, I'm forever pleased when I even get to see an owl, any owl. A super predator like an great horned owl isn't the type of creature that poses for cameras. Even when I've been out and listening to owls hootie hoodie hoo-ing, I typically don't see them, as it is typically very dark outside at those times. These are nocturnal predators.
Eral — a Female Great Horned Owl in the Harry Potter Story
Great Horned Owls Are Common Throughout Human Mythology and Fiction
Great horned owls are mythological birds. The great horned owls play a part in our popular culture, and our folk tales too. In the Harry Potter stories there is Eras, a messenger great horned owl who plays a role alongside a snow owl. There's little surprising about this, as the wizard Merlin was overly fond of owls, his owl's name was Archimedes, and Archimedes was a rather important character to the tale of The Once and Future King, and a pretentious sort of bird besides.
Either of the above examples are pop culture references. What about mythology? Well, all owls, not just the great horned ones, are mythological birds. More often than not, owls are thought to be harbingers of doom. One can only imagine how early peoples would react to a nocturnal raptor which seemingly has devil's horns on its head, and the ability to rotate its head to alarming angles.
A Great Horned Owl with a Meal
The Great Horned Owl - Having a Meal
What Do Great Horned Owls Eat?
So what do these semi-mythical and powerful raptors eat? Meat, of course, they eat lots of meat. Fresh meat, wiggling meat, that is how the great horned owls like it. Of course, a diverse diet is advantageous for any animals survival, and the great horned owls have a very diverse diet. This also, this diversity, goes a long way towards explaining the owl's very large range of dominion from the skies.
Great Horned Owls have the most diverse diet of all North American raptors. Their prey range in size from tiny rodents and scorpions to hares, skunks, geese, and raptors. 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. You get the idea, right? These birds are all out predatory, they eat other owls even. The list above of horned owl prey is merely a list of common examples. Great horned owls prey on five hundred known species of creatures, even going so far as to attack and eat bald eagle chicks, assuming the parent birds are not in the nest. This avian apex predator is speculated by some to be the single most successful predator on the planet Earth.
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.
The 'Hooting' of the Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl Chicks
The Lives of the Great Horned Owls
Great horned owls lay eggs weeks in advance of other species of raptors. This gives the owl's chicks a competitive advantage over, say, those of the red tailed hawk. The red tailed hawk, by the way, is a definite competitor to the great horned owls, for everything. The two completely distinct species of raptors share the same ecological niche. These owls spend some time choosing their mates. They start courting in October, make decisions by December, and then are mated for life. These are totally monogamous birds of prey. Besides physical posturing and loads of hooting on the part of the males, the males also do another traditional sort of thing during courtship; you guessed it, they treat the lady to a fine meal of fresh meat.
Great horned owl nests are as varied as the vast stretches of land they inhabit. What is most consistent about the great horned owl nests is - they're often stolen from other birds. Why build a nest when you can just take one? It's almost human, this raptor, in many of its admirable and less so behaviors.
The laying of eggs is timed according to the region the particular owls inhabit, and the weather in said region. Be advised, again, you are going to be attacked by a large raptor with five hundred pounds per square inch power talons if you disturb a nest. You may be attacked simply for being too close to it, whether you know about said nest, or not. The females stay with the nest unless something dramatic forces them out. The males act like consummate and loving mates during this time, often doing the hunting for both adults, and even stockpiling food for the chicks when they hatch. One nest observed by studying biologist found a full eighteen pounds of meat stored and ready for the chicks in one nest.
Eggs are incubated, regardless of the temperature, by the female for 28-37 days before chicks hatch. It's often more than ten weeks before the baby birds can fly competently.
Female and Male Great Horned Owl
How Big Are the Great Horned Owls?
So how big are these great horned owls? The female is larger than the male, as a rule. Despite the size difference, the male has more developed vocal abilities, and can hoot with a deeper voice and louder as well. Females weigh around four pounds, three pounds for the male. The females usually stand two feet tall, the males a foot and a half. Wingspans are truly impressive, and stretch as far as five feet wide in females, four feet for the males.
The great horned owl is a veritable avian apex predator, which hunts and kills at least five hundred known species of creature. But surely these birds have enemies themselves, right? Indeed they do, however, very few enemies of the great horned owl are an actual threat to them. While great horned owls are so bold as to attack and even eat the chicks of a bald eagle, it is a rare thing. Bald eagles have been known to kill great horned owls defending their nests, they do not, however, hunt them. Crows are known to gang up on the great horned owls and harass them for hours and hours at a time, but they can't kill one. Once every blue moon a red tailed hawk gets the jump on the great horned owl, and kills one. There is, though, exactly one creature that literally hunts the great horned owl, and that fearsome and huge raptor is the golden eagle, the sworn enemy of great horned owls.
Concerning the horns and the ears of the great horned owl
When Ears Are Not Ears, and the Great Horned Owl
Those prominent 'horns' on the great horned owl look like big ol ears, don't they? The owl and owls in general are known for outstanding eyes and ears, right? Indeed they are. Owls are all known for having outstanding ears and eyes. Thing about it all is, the great horned owl absolutely has terrific eyes and ears. The eyes of the great horned owl are huge in comparison to the size of its face, and those 'horns' are certainly the ears, right? Wrong. The 'horns' are not ears, they aren't horns either, obviously, those are just feathers, and that is all that they are.
Huge eyes and massive pupils allow the great horned owls to collect, with their eyes, all available light while hunting at night. The great horned owls can not swivel their eyes in their heads as we can, however, they can rotate their heads as much as two hundred and seventy degrees in either direction. Who needs swiveling eyes when you can do that? These owls have less ability to differentiate colors than we do, for colors are not what the owl seeks, but rather, movement.
The ear tufts, which are only feathers, serve the great horned owls as camouflage, and they shift in position to indicate the bird's moods. As shown in the drawn image above, the actual ears of the great horned owls are not easily visible to the untrained eye, those ears, however; along with those eyes are possibly the greatest surveillance weapons developed by natural selection on the planet Earth. Of course the reader already knows and sees the dish shaped section of the owl's head containing the eyes and the ears. Very satellite like, that.
No species of owl is particularly fast as a flyer. Like other owls, the great horned owl is almost completely silent in flight. They glide more than they ever flap their wings. Near pinpoint accuracy with the dish face, huge eyes, and finely tuned ears - it is simply not fair for the great horned owl's prey. You've been losing your cats, have you? You were sure it was coyotes killing them, huh? Think again, my friend. The great horned owl can kill and fly off with prey more than twice its own body weight, and even were the cat too big for the owl to fly off with, the great horned owl can easily kill one, and get a bellyful on the ground. Instances such as these, prey too large to carry off on the ground and feeding there, are some of the only instances when a great horned owl is ever in physical danger. These magnificent predators live as long as 28 years. I hope to have spread some appreciation, if not love, here for the great horned owls. Thanks for reading, and happy hunting to you.
A Beautiful Great Horned Owl
Questions & Answers
I have a pair of nesting owls with two owlets in my and my neighbor's backyard. I watch them every evening with a scope. The juveniles are flying; they are so incredibly noisy. At what point do the kids leave home? At what age do they seek a mate?Helpful 2
Can owls pass disease through their claws?
It is possible such could be the case as an owl's claws are often ripping into prey animals, and there is no certainty as to the health of the prey.
Is it legal to own a Great Horned Owl?
You have to have a license to have one.
Will a Great Horned Owl eventually seek new territory? I saw my first one late this evening coasting from pine tree to pine tree, robbing mockingbird nests. All this with a squadron of mockers dive bombing and screeching.
I think if the climate changes the Great Horned Owl could find some new territory. I don't think the other birds could ever chase the Great Horned Owl out of a place though.
© 2016 Wesman Todd Shaw