If you’ve ever been outside at night and heard a HOO HOO coming from the trees, you’ve probably heard a great horned owl. This lesson will teach you how these fascinating birds live.
What is a Great Horned Owl?
One of the most common owls in North America is the great horned owl. It can live just about anywhere including forests, cities, wetlands, grasslands, or backyards like yours. This relatively large owl weighs approximately 2 pounds and stands about 2.5 feet tall. They can live about thirteen years, and they can reach flight speeds of up to 40 miles per hour! The tufts on their head are actually feathers and not horns, as their name might suggest.
The great horned owl has a very distinct call, or sound, that he uses to announce his territory. You may have even heard this call coming from the trees when you are outside at night. The hoot of this owl sounds like hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo.
When owls pair up and have baby owls, or chicks, they will lay their eggs in a nest left behind by other birds, like a red-tailed hawk. The female owl will lay between 1 and 4 eggs and work to protect her nest from predators. At around 3 months old, the great horned owl chick is ready for his first flight.
What does the Great Horned Owl Eat?
Great horned owls are carnivores, or meat eaters. They are considered birds of prey, which means they are part of a group of birds that hunt for food. Their favorite meals include mice, rabbits, and even other birds as large as geese!
Hunting at night, these birds are nocturnal and have a very sharp sense of hearing. They also have large eyes that help them see in the dark. An owl the size of you would have eyes as large as a softball! You can imagine it would require large muscles to move these large eyes. Owls have small skulls and lack the muscles required to move their large eyes. Instead, they are able to turn their heads to swivel and look in any direction. Like you, they have eyelids and eyelashes, and great horned owls blink very similarly to humans.
Great horned owls have specially designed feathers that allow wind to pass through each feather very easily. This makes their flight almost silent. They can sneak up on unsuspecting prey and grab it with their sharp talons, or claws.
One really interesting fact about owls is that their bodies can’t process, or digest, animal fur and bones. Because of this, when they eat their food, the bone and fur remains get compacted into a pellet, and the owl coughs the pellet up like a cat expels a hairball! If you are lucky enough to discover one of these pellets, you can piece the bones back together to learn what the owl had for dinner!
Great horned owls are commons owls in North America. They use their sharp claws, great vision, and silent flight to catch mice, rabbits, and even other birds at night. They make a ‘hoo hoo’ noise to call to each other and mark their territory, live in the nests of other birds, and have 1 to 4 chicks at a time.