Virtual Learning Center

Wildlife Wonders

Today is Great Horned Owl Day!

The owl is considered a symbol of wisdom and knowledge.  “A wise old owl sat on an oak; the more he saw the less he spoke; the less he spoke the more he heard; why aren’t we like that wise old bird?” (Unknown)

Great horned owls are found in a wide range of “habitats” across North and South America.  Great horned owls are a mottled grey-brown color with reddish brown faces and a white patch on their throats.  They are 18-25″ long with a wingspan of over 4 ft.  They weigh 2 – 5.5 lbs.  As with nearly every other raptor or “bird of prey”, the female is larger than the male.  Great horned owls have large ear tufts on their heads. These are not ears, but just feathers.  The ears are small holes located on either side of the head.  The right ear is higher than the left ear.  They have excellent hearing and this helps them locate their prey in the night.  Their hearing is considered the best of any animal tested. 

Except for the turkey vulture, most birds of prey do not have a good sense of smell, that includes the great horned owl instead it uses its sight and hearing.

They eat mice, rats, rabbits, birds, reptiles and frogs that they are able to catch with their sharp talons (claws on their feet).  Sometimes they swallow their prey whole and other times they rip it apart with their hooked beaks.  They are called the “tiger of the woods”.  After eating they cough up pellets of indigestible fur, feathers and bones.  These pellets are dark grey, 1.5-3″ long, .75-1″ diameter. They cast off, or throw up, these pellets 6-12 hours after eating.  Scientists, and students, dissect these pellets to see what the owls (and other birds) have eaten. 

They are also called “silent fliers”.  Birds are the only living thing that have feathers. The owls have fringed feathers that help them to fly silently at night and easily catch their prey. Flying silently helps them to be able to hear better. They preen their feathers with their beaks to keep them in good condition and they lose and replace feathers that become worn and damaged in a process known as “molting”. 

Great horned owls have big, yellow eyes.  They cannot move their eyes in their eyes sockets, but they can turn their heads 270o and have excellent depth perception to allow them to tell how far away things are.

Great horned owls often take over an unused nest of a hawk or crow.  They also nest in large cavities in trees.  They begin nesting in late January and February and they have 2-3 eggs in a “clutch”.  The female usually sits on the eggs (“incubation”), but both parents feed the young.  The young may leave the nest at 5 weeks and they can fly at 9-10 weeks. They are fed by their parents for several months.

If you go out at night you might hear a deep stuttering series of 4-5 hoots.  Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo.  It is unlike the barred owl that says “who cooks for you all”.

Check out the National Geographic video…very cool.  Also, Growing Up WILD has a great kid’s page with an owl puppet, bone chart and food chain puzzle. 

https://www.fishwildlife.org/application/files/1415/3487/0371/Owl_Pellets.pdf

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Horned_Owl/id

https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/great-horned-owl

About the Author

Menu
Skip to content