Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl, Vancouver Island, BC
Great Horned Owl And Chick, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo Copyright By Sean McCann

The Pacific Northwest has a fairly large population of Great Horned Owls, but you would be considered lucky to see one. They always hunt at night and usually deep in the old-growth forests. They reside year-round in their territories on the southern coast

The Great Horned Owl is a large bird, standing up to 70 cm tall with a wingspan up to 160 cm. Males and females are similar in appearance, except the female are a wee bit larger. The plumage of the great horned owl varies regionally, from pale to dark. In general, they have brown body plumage covered with darker brown spots, white throat feathers, and cross-barring on the underparts. The white feathers stand out like a collar against the darker feathers.

The Great Horned Owls’ facial disk has light brown feathers and whiter feathers that form a V between the eyes. Their ear tufts are large and set far apart on the head.

Of course, if you hear one call, that is also a great identification aid. Their call is a series of deep hoots, from 3 to 8 notes long, Young great horned owls have a loud call that sounds like short blasts of escaping steam from an old train, it is used to tell the adults that they want food.

Great horned owl eggs may be laid in January or February right up through April. They use abandoned stick nests of other birds of prey, but also nest in hollows of trees or old buildings. Generally, 2 or 3 eggs are laid. Both the male and female incubate the eggs for around 35 days. After hatching, the young are fed by both parents, and the parents will defend their young from all perceived threats. If a young owl falls from the nest prematurely, the adults will continue to care for the bird on the ground. The young fledge from the nest at 45 to 55 days old.

Great Horned Owl, Vancouver Island, BC
Great Horned Owl, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo Copyright By Sean McCann

The Great Horned Owl can live for 12 or more years, and some captive birds have reached more than 30 years old.

When hunting, the owl will listen for sounds that betray a potential food source. After pinpointing the location of the prey, they swoop in and pounce on its prey with talons fully spread. Smaller prey is swallowed whole, but larger prey is usually ripped into pieces before eating.

Great horned owls eat a wide variety of prey, both small and large, including squirrels, shrews, muskrats, mice, snakes, frogs, grasshoppers, and a wide variety of birds, from small ones like robins and sparrows to wild ducks, grouse, quail.

Several hours after an owl has eaten, its stomach forms a pellet of fur, feathers, and bones, the owl then regurgitates this pellet. Owls may have a favorite roost or perch spot where they cast out these pellets. If you see a large amount of them around a tree base, you can check them out to see just what these owls are eating.

These owls’s eyes are fixed in their skulls, and they must move their head to see, they have several extra vertebrae in their necks that allow them to rotate their heads 270 degrees.

These owls have incredible senses of hearing and sight, traits that allow them to hunt at night. Their ears are located on the sides of the head but are off-set, not symmetrical like human ears. This enables the owl to pinpoint the source of a sound.

3 thoughts on “Great Horned Owl”

  1. I had an encounter with 2 of these beautiful owls in the city around 2009. Walking through Ross Bay Cemetaryoften, we had started noticing owl pellets and one occasion there was a whole pigeon carcass. Walking by at dusk one evening we heard the hooting and I thought it was somebody messing around in the cemetery after dark but went in (with a friend) to check it out. I caught the profile of an owl in a tree and immediately recognized the ear tufts, as I was staring at him in the waning light another one that I hadn’t seen on a lower branch flew right at me. It silently glided to another tree where we had a full view of this great owl.
    I had several other encounters with barred owls in the city around that time as well, including one that chose to perch in the middle of the city during the day for a week or so.

  2. living in Parksville and were just admiring a family of Quail wandering on the back path behind our house. We are worried thy might be gone now as 3 Great Horned Owls arrived about an hr later,what a sight to see.

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