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Great Horned Owl

Common Name: Great Horned Owl.

Scientific Name: Bubo Virginianus.

What to look for?  Look for a large, blunt-headed, horned silhouette in the trees. Great Horned Owls have distinctive horn-like feather tufts on the tops of their heads.  They have a round face with yellow eyes that are forward-facing, allowing for binocular vision. The Great Horned Owl’s feathers are brown with a distinctive white spot on their throat. Their underbellies are white with brown and black bars distributed throughout.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? The Great Horned Owl is heard more often then seen. If you hear them in the early evening hours, look for one perched high in the trees across Carillon Stonegate Pond. They may also sit atop the trees in your backyards.

How big are they? The Great Horned Owl averages just under two feet in length. And their wingspan is over four feet. They weigh in at around four pounds.

What are their flight patterns? The Great Horned Owl has a direct flap and glide flight pattern. It has strong wing beats. Their short, wide wings allow them to maneuver among the trees. Their flight feathers have soft edges that allow it to fly quietly.

How else do they behave? Great Horned Owls are fierce predators and efficient hunters that can take down large prey. Their eyes do not move in their sockets; rather they can swivel their heads more than 180 degrees to look in any direction. They also have sensitive hearing, using facial disc feathers to direct sound waves to their ears.

What’s for dinner? Rodents and other mammals! The Great Horned Owl is a fearsome nocturnal predator and powerful hunter. Mammals are favored meal, particularly rodents and rabbits. Their diet also includes large insects, amphibians, reptiles, and birds, including other owls, geese, and herons.

Where do they take up residence? The Great Horned Owl is found all across most of the U.S. and Canada. Great Horned Owls usually reside in woodlands, swamps, orchards, and agricultural areas as well as a wide variety of forests. Their home range usually includes fields, wetlands, pastures, croplands and other open habitat. They are also common in wooded parks, suburban areas, and even cities.

When and where do they breed and nest? Great Horned Owls are monogamous. They begin to nest in late winter, usually December through February. Rather than building their own nests, they reuse the nest of another large bird such as a hawk.  These nests are located high up in trees such as cottonwood, juniper, beech, and pine. Each mating pair will typically lay two eggs that will hatch in one month.

Where do they migrate? ? The Great Horned Owl does not migrate. However, they may travel southward in fall and winter.

What is their conservation status? There is no concern. Great Horned Owls are common and widespread throughout much of North America. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Great Horned Owl has seen slight decreases in populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 5.7 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? With its deep, booming call, the Great Horned Owl is also called the "hoot owl." Great Horned Owls communicate by hooting with a distinctive territorial call, "hoo-hoo hoooo hoo-hoo," that can be heard from miles away. Here is a link to the sounds of the Great Horned Owl.

Interesting Facts About Great Horned Owl:

  • Great Horned Owls are one of North America’s largest and most widespread owl species.

  • Though common, Great Horned Owls are rarely seen due to their nocturnal habits and excellent camouflage.

  • Their flight feathers have soft edges that allow them to fly silently and ambush prey.

  • When clenched, a Great Horned Owl’s strong talons require a force of 28 pounds to open, which can sever the neck or spine of large prey.

  • If you hear an agitated group of cawing American Crows, they may be mobbing and harassing a Great Horned Owl.

  • The oldest Great Horned Owl on record was approximately 28 years old.

For more information on the Great Horned Owl and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, National Geographic, National Wildlife Federation, American Bird Conservancy and University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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