Great horned owl

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Great Horned Owls are large, powerful owls with prominent ear-tufts, prominent facial disks, and bold yellow eyes. Their plumage is a mix of mottled brown with white-and-black barring, with some white at the throat. There is much variation in the darkness and shade of these colors across their range.

Its call is a low-pitched but loud ho-ho-hoo hoo hoo; sometimes it is only four syllables instead of five. The female's call is higher and rises in pitch at the end of the call. Young owls still in the care of their parents make loud, persistent hissing or screeching sounds that are often confused with the calls of the Barn Owl (Tyto alba).


Like most owls, Great Horned Owls have keen hearing and keen vision in low light, both adaptations for hunting at night. These aggressive and powerful hunters most commonly use a sit-and-wait approach, watching from a perch and swooping down on passing prey to seize it with their talons.


Great Horned Owls are supreme generalists. They are found in more varied habitats than any other owl in North America. They often use wooded habitats, especially during the breeding season when trees or heavy brush provide cover. However they also nest in cliffs in arid areas far from trees. Their preferred habitat is open or fragmented woodland with treeless areas nearby.


Great Horned Owls are opportunistic generalists, taking advantage of whatever prey is available. They have the widest prey base of any North American owl. In most places, most of their food consists of mammals such as rabbits, skunks, and large rodents. They also eat a variety of birds, including grouse, coots, and several other species of owl. To a lesser extent, Great Horned Owls also take reptiles, amphibians, fish, and even large insects


In late fall and early winter, the low muffled hooting of a Great Horned Owl may carry great distances, signaling that males are beginning to occupy breeding territories. Males and females sometimes sing duets, the male calling the well-known pattern of four to five hoots, "whoo, whoo-hoo, whooo, whooo." The female responds with a higher pitched two-syllable call, or six to eight lower pitched hoots, "whoo, whoo-hoo, whoo-oo, whoo-oo." Although nearly identical in appearance to the female, the male uses a distinctive posture while calling. He calls from a prominent branch or rock, holding his body nearly horizontally, drooping his wings, cocking his tail slightly, and inflating his white throat patch. Once paired, the male and female may roost together in dense foliage or rock crevices.


Great Horned Owls are early nesters and begin calling in courtship in early winter. Monogamous pairs form long-term bonds. Though they sometimes nest in caves or on cliff ledges, they most often nest in deciduous trees. Great Horned Owls do not build their own nests, but use nests built by hawks, crows, magpies, herons, or other large birds. Most are abandoned nests from previous years, but Great Horned Owls also take over active nests. They add no new nest material. Since nesting typically begins in late January or February, before trees begin to leaf out, Great Horned Owls on the nest can often be seen easily. The female incubates 1-4 eggs for 30-37 days while the male brings her food. The young remain in the nest for about 6 weeks, then climb out onto nearby branches. They begin taking short flights at 7 weeks, and can fly well at 9-10 weeks. Both parents feed and tend the young for several months, often as late as September or October.