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What is a Great Horned Owl?

Anna T.
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A great horned owl is a type of owl native to North and South America. It gets its name from the tufts of feathers sticking up on either side of its head, which look like horns but actually aren't. These owls are typically large in size, reaching up to 25 inches (about 63.5 cm) in length with wingspans as wide as 60 inches (roughly 152 cm). Some great horned owls might weigh as much as 5.5 pounds (about 2.5 kg). The females are often slightly larger in size than the males.

Unlike other types of owls that are occasionally seen during daylight hours, great horned owls are almost strictly nocturnal creatures. It is not uncommon to hear a great horned owl hooting just as the sun begins to come up in the morning, but that is usually the last sound it will make until dusk. They spend their nights hunting prey that might include small rodents, rabbits, and small birds. The typical great horned owl may also feast on snakes, frogs, and almost any type of fish. These owls are capable of catching prey larger than themselves, and occasionally kill cats and dogs.

Great horned owls may be found almost anywhere, including forests and open grassland. They do not normally build nests — they typically care for their young using the nests of other birds. Great horned owls usually breed during January and February and keep the same mate for the duration of their lives. Most of the time, they lay between two and five eggs. The male great horned owl shares the responsibility of sitting on the eggs with the female.

It takes roughly 30 days before the eggs hatch. The young owls are typically unable to fly until they are about 10 weeks old. When autumn arrives, the young great horned owls are usually ready to leave the nest for good. The parents of the young owls may also part ways at this time due to the solitary nature of the species, but they typically reunite again when breeding season returns. Migration does not normally occur at any time during the year unless they need to find food in other areas.

The average great horned owl may live for up to 38 years in captivity. Owls living in the wild do not usually make it past 13 years. Great horned owls are vulnerable to attacks from humans and other large birds. Their greatest threats in the animal kingdom, however, are typically other great horned owls.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Anna T.
By Anna T.
Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to All Things Nature. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.
Discussion Comments
By dega2010 — On Nov 11, 2010

Here are some more Great Horned owl facts:

Other than the process of blinking, their eyes cannot move. The Great Horned owl’s eyes are fixed forward. When an owl wants to see something to the side, it has to turn its whole head in that direction. That is fairly easy for the owl to do because it has 14 very flexible neck bones. They can turn their heads 270 degrees in either direction.

Just a little FYI: Humans only have seven neck bones.

By CellMania — On Nov 11, 2010


The Great Horned owl has two different ears. One ear is positioned a bit higher on the skull than the other. They hear exceptionally well. The higher ear is for the owl to hear noises from above and the lower ear is for the owl to hear noises below. This is known as asynchronous hearing.

The Great Horned owls face also assist in their hearing. The feathers on the Great Horned owl are very short and in a rounded pattern that forms a facial disk. The facial disk acts as a satellite dish, receiving different sounds and funneling them to the ears.

By dill1971 — On Nov 11, 2010

I have heard that the Great Horned owl has exceptional hearing. Is that true, and why?

Anna T.
Anna T.
Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to All Things Nature. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.
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