The Great Horned Owl (scientific name Bubo virginianus) is a sizable owl indigenous to much of the New World, including Central, North, and South America alike. It is frequently called the hoot owl for its vocalizations, or the tiger owl because of its multi-colored plumage, composed mostly of different shades of brown and white markings and patches. These birds are easily distinguished by their "plumicorns", which are tufts of lengthened feathers found on the tops of their heads as well as their piercing yellow eyes and feathered legs and feet. The average Great Horned Owl can weigh up to 3 pounds with wingspan reaching up to 48 inches. They are considered the heaviest owls in South and Central America, despite wide variations observed in their weight and length.
The Great Horned Owl is nocturnal by nature, meaning they prefer to hunt for food in the evenings and nights while most other animals are resting. They are well equipped for the task, with two of the sharpest eyes in the bird class (Aves) which help them to zero in on their food while in the dark. Their diet is composed of a wide range of animals including, but not limited to, cats, dogs, rodents, hawks, voles, insects, fish, rabbits, and even American coots (birds found living in American wetlands). They stalk their prey while perched atop perches in heavily wooded areas, most often hidden completely by foliage and tall shrubs. As soon as they find what they’re looking for, they swiftly dive towards the ground with their wings folded and their talons ready to take hold of their targets. Small animals like squirrels, shrews, and bats are often entirely swallowed without being chewed up and broken down, after which unwanted body parts are spit out as efficiently and as quickly as they were taken in.
Habitat and Range
The Great Horned owls are among the most common owls in America, and are among the most proficient and accomplished in terms of hunting and foraging for food. According to statistics, their population has remained stable over the last couple of decades, despite being hunted heavily by humans. These birds adapt quiet well to sudden changes in their environment and, being nocturnal, are not that easy to spot making them more resilient against the threat of extinction. Possible reasons for the decline of their numbers are pesticide poisoning (especially from that consumed indirectly from the animals that they eat who were themselves poisoned first), destruction of their natural habitats, and pollution caused by careless human activities. Still, they are classified as a species of "Least Concern" on the IUCN Red List.
The Great Horned owls are bold and clever hunters, preferring to stay perched atop branches and twigs in densely covered areas such as thick brush and dense forests. They are aggressive defenders of their territories, which they do so by repeated hooting and clapping of their bills. They don’t like having intruders in their midst, and will often hiss and scream when faced with unfamiliar animals or other humans.
The Great Horned Owl is strictly monogamous by nature, meaning that they typically mate with just one partner during the course of their lifetimes. Courtship typically starts around two full months before mates are selected, which is a decision made by the female by way of hooting and folding of her tail. Mating pairs stay together for all of their lives, although they may start drifting apart and spending more solitary time once their young ones are able to live on their own away from their nests. The selection of nesting sites is carried out by the males. The sites will then be approved by the females so long as they are located in easily accessible areas wide enough to accommodate their large sizes.