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Birds of Prey Animal Fact Sheet
GREAT HORNED OWL
Bubo virginianus

Range:
There are up to 21 subspecies of Great Horned Owls, but not all are recognized by experts. Regardless, they are found throughout North America from the northern treeline and then in Central and South America. They are resident year-round, however, birds living in the northern part of the species' range may migrate south The largest owl species found here in Florida. They can vary in color from a reddish brown to a gray or black and white. The underside is a light gray with dark bars and a white band of feathers on the upper breast. They have large, staring yellow-orange eyes. The name is derived from tufts of feathers that appear to be "horns" which are sometimes referred to as "ear tufts" but have nothing to do with hearing at all. The large feet are feathered to the ends of the toes, and the immature birds resemble the adults. Females are 10 to 20% larger than males. Average about 1 ½ to 2 feet tall with a 3-4 foot wingspan and weigh approx. 2-4 lbs.

Great Horned Owls have a large repertoire of sounds, ranging from deep booming hoots to shrill shrieks. They use the typical hooting sound that is associated with owls today "hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo."

Mostly nocturnal but may be seen hunting in the daylight hours as well. Most mortality is related to man - shootings, traps, road kills and electrocutions. The only natural enemies are other Great Horned Owls and, occasionally, Northern Goshawks during disputes over nest sites.

Nesting season is in January or February when the males and females hoot to each other. When close they bow to each other, with drooped wings. Mutual bill rubbing and preening also occurs. They do not build a nest of their own but utilize the nests of other birds such as the hawk, crow and heron. They may also use squirrel nests, hollows in trees, rocky caves, clumps of witches broom, abandoned buildings, or on artificial platforms. They are extremely aggressive when defending the nest and will continue to attack until the intruder is killed or driven off. Normally, two to four eggs are laid and incubated by the female only for 26-35 days. Young start roaming from the nest onto nearby branches at 6 to 7 weeks, when they are called "branchers", but cannot fly well until 9 to 10 weeks old. They are fed for another few weeks as they are slowly weaned. Families remain loosely associated during summer before young disperse in the autumn. Adults tend to remain near their breeding areas year-round while juveniles disperse widely, over 250 km (150 miles) in the autumn. Territories are maintained by the same pair for as many as 8 consecutive years, however, these Owls are solitary in nature, only staying with their mate during the nesting season. Average home ranges in various studies have been shown to be approximately 2½ square kms (1 square mile).
Habitat: Great Horned Owls have adapted to many different places and climates. They occur in habitats from dense forests, deserts and plains to city parks. They have been known to inhabit the same area as the diurnal red-tailed hawk.
Diet: Mammalian prey includes all coexisting rodents, squirrels, mink, skunks, raccoons, armadillos, porcupines, domestic cats and dogs, shrews, moles, muskrats, and bats. Bird prey includes all other Owls (except Snowy Owl), grouse, woodpeckers, crows, turkeys, pigeons, Red-tailed Hawks, bitterns, Great Blue Heron, ducks, swans, gulls, etc. Reptiles include snakes, turtles, lizards, and young alligators. Amphibians include frogs, toads, and salamanders. Other foods include fish, large insects, scorpions, centipedes, crayfish, worms, spiders, and road killed animals.
Status: Least Concern (IUCN)
Approximate Dimensions of Adult: Adults can have a wingspan of up to 5 feet in width.
Lifespan: The largest owl species in the world with females estimating 6-8 lbs and males 4-6 lbs. With wing spans of 4-6 feet long.
Reproduction & Offspring: Normally, two to four eggs are laid and incubated by the female only for 26-35 days.

 

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