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Great Horned Owl

Bubo virginianus


Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) - a captive education bird - at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden's Bird Day, Coral Gables, Florida. << An owl's hearing is as good as – if not better than – its vision; they have better depth perception and better perception of sound elevation (up-down direction) than humans. This is due to owl ears not being placed in the same position on either side of their head: the right ear is typically set higher in the skull and at a slightly different angle. By tilting or turning its head until the sound is the same in each ear, an owl can pinpoint both the horizontal and vertical direction of a sound. >>


The Great Horned Owl, (Bubo virginianus), also known as the Tiger Owl, is a large owl native to the Americas. It is an adaptable bird with a vast range and is the most widely distributed true owl in the Americas. Great Horned Owls range in length from 18–25 in (46–63 cm) and have a wingspan of 40-57 in (101–145 cm).[1] Females are larger than males, an average adult being 22 in (55 cm) long with a 49 in (124 cm) wingspan and weighing about 3.1 lbs (1400 g). Depending on subspecies, Great Horned Owls can weigh from 0.72 to 2.55 kg (1.6 to 5.6 lb). Adults have large ear tufts, a reddish, brown or gray face and a white patch on the throat. The iris is yellow, except the amber-eyed South American Great Horned Owl (B. V. nacurutu). Its "horns" are neither ears nor horns, simply tufts of feathers. The underparts are light with brown barring; the upper parts are mottled brown. The legs and feet are covered in feathers up to the talons. There are individual and regional variations in color; birds from the sub-Arctic are a washed-out, light-buff color, while those from Central America can be a dark chocolate brown. Their call is a low-pitched but loud ho-ho-hoo hoo hoo; sometimes it is only four syllables instead of five. The female's call is higher and rises in pitch at the end of the call. Young owls make hissing or screeching sounds that are often confused with the calls of Barn Owls. Great Horned Owls can be easily confused with the Magellanic Horned Owl (B. magellanicus) and other eagle-owls. They are all generally allopatric though. South American Great Horned Owl, B. v. nacurutu (note dark eyes) Northern Great Horned Owl (B. v. subarcticus) in Manitoba Californian Great Horned Owl (B. v. pacificus) stretching itself, Bernal Hill Park, San FranciscoA large number of subspecies have been named. As indicated above, many of these are only examples of individual or clinal variation. Subspecies differences are mainly in color and size and generally follow Gloger's and Bergmann's Rules: Common Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus virginianus (Gmelin, 1788) USA eastwards from Minnesota to Texas; northeastwards to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Canada. Resident all-year. A brown form, tinged rufous and barred distinctly blackish-brown below. Feet tawny to buff, often barred black. South American Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus nacurutu (Vieillot, 1817) A lowland form occurring in disjunct populations from E Colombia to the Guyanas; also from Bolivia and Brazil south of the Amazonas basin to N Argentina; resident all-year. Includes the proposed subspecies scotinus, elutus, and deserti. The status of this form, especially the relationships between the subpopulations and with ssp. nigrescens and the Magellanic Horned Owl, deserves more study. Dull brownish with long bill; birds from the semiarid interior of Brazil often have much white on uppertail- and ear-coverts. It is the only subspecies where the iris is amber, not yellow. Northern/Subarctic Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus subarcticus Hoy, 1852 Breeding range from Mackenzie, British Columbia region E to Hudson Bay; southern limit unclear but at least reaches to Montana and North Dakota. Non-breeding birds are regularly found south to latitude 45°S, occasionally beyond. Includes the birds described as occidentalis (based on a wintering individual, as was the original subarcticus) and sclariventris. The older name wapacuthu was occasionally used for this subspecies, but it cannot with certainty be assigned to a recognizable taxon and is thus considered a nomen dubium. The population described as algistus is probably based on wandering individuals and/or intergrades of subarcticus, saturatus and lagophonus. A pale form, ground color essentially whitish with faint buff tinge above; black underside barring variable from indistinct to pronounced. Very pale birds are similar to a young female Snowy Owl from a distance. Feet whitish to buff, with little or no pattern. The largest-bodied subspecies. Californian Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus pacificus Cassin, 1854 Central and southern California west of the Sierra Nevada except San Joaquin Valley, south to NW Baja California, Mexico. Intergrades with pallescens in San Diego County, California (see also below). Resident all-year. Very rich brown, dark underside barring distinct but less pronounced than in saturatus. Humeral area black. Feet mottled dark. Coastal Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus saturatus Ridgway, 1877 Pacific coast from SE Alaska to N California. Resident all-year. A dark, dull and somewhat greyish form with heavily barred underside. Feet fairly dusky overall. North Andean Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus nigrescens Berlepsch, 1884 Andes; arid temperate and puna zones from Colombia to NW Peru. Resident all-year round. A dark, cold gray-brown form with heavy fuscous blotching. Desert Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus pallescens Stone, 1897 San Joaquin Valley southeastwards through arid regions of SE California and S Utah eastwards to W Kansas and southwards to Guerrero and W Veracruz in Mexico; intergrades with pacificus in San Diego County; vagrant individuals of lagophonus and the Rocky Mountains population, which look similar to intergrades, also seem to occur in its range. Resident all-year. A small, pale dusky buff form with indistinct barring, especially on the underside. Humeral area umber. Feet white and usually unmarked. Yucatán Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus mayensis (Nelson, 1901) Yucatán Peninsula. Resident all-year. A small and medium-pale form. Baja California Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus elachistus Brewster, 1902 S Baja California, Mexico. Resident all-year. Similar in color to pacificus, but considerably (5-10%) smaller; some overlap though. In fact, it is the smallest subspecies overall. Northeastern Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus heterocnemis (Oberholser, 1904) Breeds in E Canada (N Quebec, Labrador, Newfoundland). In winter, disperses southwards to Ontario to NE USA. Doubtfully distinct from saturatus. A fairly dark and grey, heavily barred form. Feet pale with dusky mottling. Northwestern Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus lagophonus (Oberholser, 1904) Breeds from inland Alaska south through mountaineous areas of British Columbia to MA Oregon, the Snake River, and NW Montana. Reported in winter as far south as Colorado and Texas. Doubtfully distinct from saturatus. Greyer than saturatus, but similar overall. Feet with dusky barring. Central American Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus mesembrinus (Oberholser, 1904) Isthmus of Tehuantepec to W Panama. Resident all-year. A mid-sized form; darker than mayensis. Rocky Mountains Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus pinorum Dickerman & Johnson, 2008 The Rocky Mountains population breeds south of the Snake River south to Arizona, New Mexico, and the Guadalupe Mountains. Westwards, it is presumed to occur to the Modoc Plateau and Mono Lake. They were included in the presumed subspecies occidentalis, but recently described as distinct subspecies. A medium gray form, intermediate between lagophonus and pallescens. Moderately barred and tinged buff or ochraceous on the underside. Feet mottled. The Pleistocene Sinclair Owl from California, Bubo sinclairi, may have been be a paleosubspecies of the Great Horned Owl; if so, they were presumably the ancestors of the pacificus/pallescens group of subspecies. The breeding habitat of the Great Horned Owl extends from subarctic North America through much of Central America and South America south to Tierra del Fuego. They are absent from southern Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua to Panama in Central, and Amazonia and the southwest in South America, as well as from the West Indies and indeed most off-shore islands. They are the most widely-distributed owl in the Americas. They are amongst the world's most adaptable owls in terms of habitat. They can take up residence in trees that include deciduous, coniferous, and mixed forests, tropical rainforests, pampas, prairie, mountainous areas, deserts, subarctic tundra, rocky coasts, mangrove swamp forests, and some urban areas. It is less common in the more extreme areas (i.e., the heart of the deserts, extremely dense rainforests and in mountainous areas above tree line), generally absent from non-tidal wetland habitat, and missing from the high Arctic tundra. They prefer areas where open habitats, which they often hunt in, and woods, where they tend to roost and nest, are juxtaposed and thus rural regions can be ideal. All mated Great Horned Owls are permanent residents of their territories, but unmated and younger birds move freely in search of company and a territory, and leave regions with little food in winter. Great Horned Owl eggs, nestlings and fledgings may be preyed on by foxes, coyotes, or wild or feral cats. There are almost no predators of adults, but they may be killed in confrontations with eagles, Snowy Owls and, mostly, other Great Horned Owls. Far-ranging as it is, it is not considered a globally threatened species by the IUCN. Owls have spectacular binocular vision allowing them to pinpoint prey and see in low light. The eyes of Great Horned Owls are nearly as large as those of humans and are immobile within their circular bone sockets. Instead of turning their eyes, they turn their heads. Therefore, their neck must be able to turn a full 270 degrees in order to see in other directions without moving its entire body. An owl's hearing is as good as – if not better than – its vision; they have better depth perception and better perception of sound elevation (up-down direction) than humans. This is due to owl ears not being placed in the same position on either side of their head: the right ear is typically set higher in the skull and at a slightly different angle. By tilting or turning its head until the sound is the same in each ear, an owl can pinpoint both the horizontal and vertical direction of a sound. These birds hunt at night by waiting on a high perch and swooping down on prey. Prey can vary greatly based on opportunity. The predominant prey group are small to medium-sized mammals such as hares, rabbits (statistically the most regular prey), juvenile raccoons, rats, squirrels, mice, moles, voles, shrews, bats, armadillos, muskrats, weasels and gerbils. It is even a natural predator of prey two to three times heavier than itself such as porcupines, marmots and skunks. Birds also comprise a large portion of a Great Horned Owl's diet, ranging in size from kinglets to Great Blue Herons. Waterbirds, especially coots and ducks, are hunted; even raptors, up to the size of Red-tailed Hawk and Snowy Owls, are sometimes taken. Regular avian prey includes woodpeckers, grouse, crows, pigeons, herons, gulls, quail, turkey and various passerines. Reptiles (to the size of young American alligators), amphibians, fish, crustaceans and even insects are only occasional prey. In addition, the Great Horned Owl will predate on domesticated cats and small or young dogs. These birds also have 200-300 pounds per square inch of crushing power in their talons. An average adult human male has about 60 pounds per square inch in his hands. In northern regions, where larger prey that cannot be eaten quickly are most prevalent, they may let uneaten food freeze and then thaw it out later using their own body heat. They also tend to eat and regurgitate food in the same locations. (credit:

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JackEng 11 years ago

Coheed2002, Ietermagog, KarenL, KatCuff -
Thank you all! Your comments are much appreciated!
Apologies for delayed replies...

Coheed2002 11 years ago

Wow that's a cool bird :)

Ietermagog 12 years ago

Great series. Love 1st pic!

KarenL 12 years ago

Beautiful portrait!

KatCuff 12 years ago

That is a very beautiful bird!!

Spotted by

Florida, USA

Spotted on Oct 3, 2010
Submitted on Feb 8, 2012

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