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Great Horned Owl - BirdForum Opus

Photo © by Victor Vector
Mojave River Wildlife Refuge, California, USA, 26 March 2021
Bubo virginianus


Photo © by DJ ODonnell
Loveland, Colorado, 7 May 2019

46-63 cm (18.1-24.8 in)
Ws. over 4 ft
The quintessential owl

  • Two tufts of feathers on either side of head
  • Cat-like head shape
  • Mostly brownish with patterning
    • Northern birds are very pale
    • Birds in Pacific Northwest are almost black
  • Rust orange face
  • White throat
  • Buff below
  • Pale, lightly feathered feet
  • Gleaming golden eyes (amber in subspecies B.v. nacurutu).
  • Powerful talons


Photo © by bobsofpa
Largo, Florida, USA, 1 March 2016

A very widely distributed bird throughout the Americas. Great Horns are found from Alaska to Peru, mainly in forested areas; they also live in desert regions, where they nest in cacti. Published range maps do not include the Amazon Basin in South America; however, at least one Birdforum member has found a bird in an area north of the Amazon River in Brazil.

These birds are largely sedentary, though northern birds may irrupt, and there may be seasonal movement within territories.


Lesser Horned Owl was formerly included in this species.


Sixteen subspecies are recognized[1] with some authors recognizing even more:


Varied habitats in its breeding range, from forest to city to open desert. Forest habitats, range from scrub through open woods to dense forests.


A fierce predator, known as the "Winged Tiger" or "Flying Tiger".


Will hunt small rodents, rabbits and hares, snakes, other birds (particularly waterfowl), and many other small animals. They have been known to pluck hawks and falcons from their nightly roosts, and they are some of the only animals which can hunt porcupines and skunks.

Great Horns are largely nocturnal, but will hunt in daylight if necessary. They are mainly perch hunters, sitting atop a favored vantage point (often at the edge of the forest) and scanning for prey.


Normally a stick nest in a tree built by some other species (like all owls they don't build their own nests). The young are cared for by both adults.


Most subspecies give a loud, booming hoot; hoo hu-hoo, hoo hoo.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, T. A. Fredericks, J. A. Gerbracht, D. Lepage, S. M. Billerman, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2022. The eBird/Clements checklist of Birds of the World: v2022. Downloaded from https://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Gill, F, D Donsker, and P Rasmussen (Eds). 2022. IOC World Bird List (v 12.2) DRAFT. Doi 10.14344/IOC.ML.12.2. http://www.worldbirdnames.org/
  3. BirdForum Member observations
  4. Artuso, C., C. S. Houston, D. G. Smith, and C. Rohner (2022). Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), version 1.1. In Birds of the World (N. D. Sly, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.grhowl.01.1
  5. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2019. Great_Horned_Owl in: All About Birds. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/ Accessed on 23May 2020.

Recommended Citation

External Links

GSearch checked for 2020 platform.