5 Reasons To Love The Great Horned Owl

An owl named Gigi is recovering at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Mississippi. When the owl, which arrived at Wild at Heart Rescue in May after suffering severe head trauma, recognized her rescuer, she gave him a big hug. She and the rescue’s president, Doug Pojeky, have truly bonded and he was there to see how she was recuperating. With luck, Gigi will have recovered sufficiently to return to the wild in the near future.

Great horned owl

The great horned owl —also known as the hoot owl and tiger owl — doesn’t actually have horns, but ear tufts give that impression. The large, yellow eyes resemble those of the feline, and are outlined in black. The brown, barred feathering is designed for camouflage. Although a great horned owl rarely weighs more than three pounds, it appears much bigger, and has a wide wingspan. If you hear hooting in the dark of night, odds are you’re listening to a great horned owl communicate.

Great horned owls are found throughout North America and parts of South America. They flourish in a variety of climates, but prefer forests and areas near streams.

Eat and regurgitate

The great horned owl consumes prey whole and then regurgitates bone pellets and other matter several hours later. Great horned owl feces are quite large, and may even contain the tiny skulls of their meals.

Silent flight

The wings of other birds make noise when they fly, but the great horned owl’s flight is silent because feathers are less rigid and softer than that of other avian species. That’s a great plus for a bird of prey and makes him an efficient killer. As a nocturnal creature, he flies by night.

Great hearing and vision

The owl’s hearing and vision are first-rate, able to hear even the smallest sound up to nearly 1,000 feet away, which is why no mouse is safe in the vicinity. Hunting at night, the owl’s vision  is good in the dark or at dawn. The horned owl listens and watches, then swoops down and grabs his prey with his sharp talons. Those claws are capable of exerting 300 pounds of pressure per square inch, making them more powerful than human hands.

Monogamous creatures

Great horned owls mate for the long term, and often for life. While they are together — the average pairing lasts at least five years — they are monogamous. However, if one dies, the surviving owl will seek another partner.

Nest borrowers

Great horned owls usually fall into the category of renters, not homeowners. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports the species is more likely to nest in a variety of sites than any other North American bird.  While reusing the nest of another type of bird is the preferred dwelling, owls nest in deserted buildings, tree cavities, on cliffs — anywhere they feel safe and secure. They don’t return to the nest the following season, if there’s a nest left behind. Owls and owlets are not the best of tenants, and once they are through with a nest, it’s generally no longer habitable.

Once the owlets hatch, both parents provide food. Parents take care of them until they are several months old.

Rodent control

Great horned owls are a form of natural rodent control. Their prey consists primarily of mice, rats, snakes and rabbits, but they’ll take on larger animals, including skunks and hawks. Smaller owl species may end up as meals. The great horned owl will eat anything it can catch, and its diet is the most diverse among all raptors.

Watch the chickens

If you keep poultry, you might not appreciate owls. If you find a dead chicken with only the head removed, suspect a great horned owl. The brains and head are the owl’s favorite chicken dinner. Since owls hunt at night, make sure your flocks are secured inside a chicken house once night falls. That also protects them from other common predators, such as raccoons.

No matter where you live, it’s likely the great horned owl resides nearby. In urban areas, they may live in parks or wetlands. Hopefully you will catch a glimpse of this magnificent creature!

—Jane Meggitt

Recommended Articles