Great Horned Owl

Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus (meaning Virginian owl)

Description: Great Horned Owls are sometimes called the ‘tigers of the sky’ due to their feathers with grey-brown mottling on their chest, back and wings. Their faces range from brown to reddish brown. Depending on the subspecies, their feet may be mottled or striped and their plumicorns (the feather tufts on their head) can also range in size. These owls weigh between 910g and 2500g. Their wingspans can reach up to 4.7 feet. The main flight feathers on the wings each have a comb-like edge called fluting. This fluting allows air to pass through the edge of the feather, effecting in silent flight. The rest of the owl’s feathers are fringed along the edges to aid this silent predator. 

Behavior: Owls are sit-and-wait predators. Their silent flight allows them to sneak up on prey, but it does also mean they lack speed. Circling in the air for hours or high speed chases could waste valuable time and energy for owls. Instead, they find a perch with a good view around them and wait for a prey animal to come near. The owl then silently takes flight and ambushes their prey. Great Horned Owls have been known to land on the ground and run into brush to catch prey as well. They are primarily nocturnal predators. However, they have been seen hunting in the daytime as well when needed. Great Horned Owls are monogamous and mate for life. A mated pair may either use an abandoned nest or a cavity to raise their young. One to four eggs are laid once during the breeding season and the young will begin to fledge (learn to fly) when they are 42 days old. 

Diet: Great Horned Owls are generalist hunters, meaning they will eat just about anything. In fact, they have the most diverse diet of any North American raptor. Prey animals range from scorpions to skunks, though primarily made up of medium sized mammals and birds. They have even been known to hunt other raptors. 


Conservation: According to the IUCN Red List, Great Horned Owls are considered to be a species of Least Concern. However, they do still face complications. A major issue Great Horned Owls face is rodenticides. Most rodent poisons do not immediately kill the animal after eating it. The rat or mouse can continue to run about for quite some time after, leaving plenty of time for them to be potentially caught by a Great Horned Owl or other predator. It only takes one poisoned mouse to kill a Great Horned Owl.
How you can help: Moving away from using rodenticides in rodent control will help decrease the chances that a Great Horned Owl will eat a poisoned rodent or other animal. Humane traps or electric shock traps are designed to only affect the species that humans are intending to remove from their homes.

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