California Raptor Center

Great Horned Owl

Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
(Bubo is Latin for ‘horned owl’, virginianus is Latin form for Virginia, the type of locality.

Size: Length: 18-25in Wingspan: 35-55in        

Weight: Female: 1417-2503g (~3.1-5.5lb)  Male: 985-1588g (~3.1-3.5lb)

Lifespan: Wild lifespan is around 13 years old, while captive ones may live to 30 to 40 years, maybe more.

ID: These large owls range from a reddish brown to gray coloration and have a barred belly and white band across the chest. They have very large yellow eyes and widely spaces “ear tufts” for which they have received the title “horned”. There are no distinct differences between male and female plumages among this species, but like many other raptor species, the female tends to be larger than the male. The plumage of immature owls of all species tends to be solid in coloration, while mature owls develop a spotty or mixed coloration. Plumage development among owls is the opposite of development found among hawks. Immature hawks tend to have spotty coloration and develop a more solid color pattern as they mature.

Hunting: Great Horned Owls are primarily perch hunters and have the ability to take prey up to 3 times their weight. 

Prey: In general, the favorite prey of this owl is cottontail rabbits, but this may vary depending on the prey availability from region to region. One of the only predators whose diet includes skunks and other raptors, such as the Red-tailed Hawks. Birds taken as prey tend to be larger species and in general do not get much smaller than jays or woodpeckers.

Breeding: Although the Great Horned Owl appears smaller in size, it is more powerful than either the Great Gray or Snowy Owl and, will more often than not, win a dispute with a Red-tailed Hawk over a nesting site. Many of these nesting disputes may arise because the Great Horned Owl does not make its own nest, but takes over large nests made by Red-tails, herons, squirrels and crows. The young stay with their parents longer than other owl species. This may help explain why a typical nesting season for a Great Horned Owl begins in January or February. Clutch size is 2 to 4 eggs; the eggs have an incubation time of 26-35 days. The young owls fledge at 9 to 10 weeks of age, but may remain near to their parents for several months.

Range: Great Horned Owls are non-migratory, but may move from one location to another locally. 

Status: This species is considered to be common and is not listed as a threatened or endangered species.

Point of Interest:  The Great Horned Owl is renowned as a powerful predator and dominates the night skies of North and South America.  This owl has a wide variety range of preferred habitats.  The hunting behavior, size and strength of the Great Horned Owl often lead people to refer to this species as the nocturnal counterpart of the diurnal Red-tailed Hawk.