At 18 to 25 inches and a wingspan of 4 feet 7 inches, the Great Horned Owl is the second-largest North American owl (the
Great Gray Owl is larger at 27 inches). The Great Horned Owl occupies the same ecological niche as the Eagle Owl does in Eurasia.
The two species are closely related.
The Great Horned Owl is the only large North American owl with ear tufts. It
is heavily barred beneath with a conspicuous white throat-collar and large yellow eyes. It is distinguished from the Long-eared
owl by its size, bulky shape and white throat. In flight, it is as large as our largest hawks. It is aggressive and powerful
and chiefly nocturnal.
The voice is a resonant hooting of 3-8 hoots; males usually 4-5, in this rhythm: hoo, hoo-oo,
hoo, hoo; females (lower in pitch) 6-8: hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo-oo, hoo-oo.
The Great Horned Owl is a resident throughout North America south of the tree line. It lives in forests, woodlands,
thickets, chaparral, streamsides, open country, deserts, canyons and cliffs.
Sometimes the Great Horned Owl will lay
its eggs in the old nest of a heron or a hawk, but they also build their own nest in a tree, pothole, cliff or river bluff,
and sometimes even on the ground.
In North America the Great Horned Owl begins to breed in the cold of winter. It
lays 2-3 white eggs (2.3 x 1.9 in.). Incubation is around thirty days, with both parents taking turns.
The owls feed
on rabbits, squirrels, rats, wild birds including crows, ducks and other owls. Sometimes they will take on an animal as large
as a skunk.
There are two color phases, the orange-breasted and white-breasted. The frequency of these color phases
varies from region to region, but in central Canada and Alaska, the white phase appears to be dominant.