21 Great Horned Owl Facts for Kids: Amazing Birds

Great horned owl facts for kids: they are remarkable for their adaptability, making homes in forests, deserts, and even urban areas. They have an impressive wingspan and are known to be excellent hunters, using their sharp talons and beaks to catch a wide range of prey. While often seen at night, their acute senses and stealthy flight make them skilled nocturnal hunters.

The scientific Name of this powerful predator is Owl Species is Bubo virginianus.

21 Great Horned Owl Facts That You Don’t Want to Miss

great horned Owl Facts

The Great Horned Owl is a captivating creature of the night, full of intriguing characteristics and behaviors that make it a subject of fascination. It has so many striking features, so let’s learn about them!

If you love owls be sure to check out our article on more general fun owl facts!

They Vary in Color Depending on Where They Are From

They Vary in Color Depending on Where They Are From

Great-horned owls vary in color depending on where they live. Owls from the Pacific Northwest are dark like soot, owls from the Southwest are lighter and grayer, and owls from northern Canada can be almost white.

The Great Horned Owl Has a Hoot That You Can Hear Over Long Distances

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus pallescens)” from xeno-canto by Scott Olmstead. Genre: Strigidae.

Great horned owls are known for their distinctive call, a deep, resonating hoot. The typical call pattern often sounds like “hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo,” with the sequence and tones varying slightly among individuals. 

This hooting can be heard over long distances and is primarily used for territory establishment and communication between mates. So, if you are in the conifer forests, listen for the deep hooting voice! 

They Have Distinctive Eyes and Binocular Vision

They Have Distinctive Eyes and Binocular Vision

One of the best Great Horned Owl Facts: the eyes of Great horned owls are one of its most striking features. The large, yellow eyes are not just for show—they give these owls exceptional night vision. Unlike other animals, an owl’s eyes don’t move in their sockets, so it has to turn its head to look around. 

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Great horned owls have binocular vision, a trait that is particularly beneficial for their hunting lifestyle. Binocular vision means that their eyes are positioned on the front of their head, allowing their fields of vision to overlap.

This configuration gives them excellent depth perception, which is crucial for gauging the distance to their prey, especially when hunting in low-light conditions at night.

The ability to see in three dimensions, is one of unique Great horned owl facts. It helps great horned owls accurately pinpoint and capture prey even when flying or from a perch.  Learn more about owl vision at night here!

Additionally, their eyes are enormous in proportion to their skull, which enhances their ability to see in dim light and increases their visual acuity, making them formidable nocturnal predators.

Ears Are Asymmetrical and Hidden

Ears Are Asymmetrical and Hidden

Check out more Great horned owl facts! Their ears are hidden by feathers on the sides of their face, and their placement helps them pinpoint the exact location of sounds, such as potential prey.

Additionally, the Great Horned Owl is known for its excellent hearing, enabled by its asymmetrically set ear openings; this adaptation allows it to pinpoint the location of sounds with astonishing accuracy, making it a formidable hunter in the darkness of night.

They Have a Facial Disk That Helps them Hear

great horned owl They Have a Facial Disk That Helps them Hear

One of the Great horned owl facts for kids is that they have a facial disk. This distinctive structure is formed by feathers arranged in a circular pattern around their face.

The facial disk functions similarly to a parabolic antenna; it helps to direct sounds toward their ears, enhancing their hearing. This adaptation is crucial for hunting, especially since great horned owls are primarily nocturnal predators that rely heavily on their auditory senses to locate prey in the dark.

Muscular control allows the owl to adjust the shape and size of the facial disk slightly, allowing it to focus sounds from different directions more effectively. This characteristic is key in many owl species and is particularly well-developed in the great horned owl, contributing to its reputation as a formidable hunter.

Impressive Wingspan

great horned owls have Impressive Wingspan

When a great horned owl spreads its wings, the wingspan can be impressive, ranging from 3.3 to 4.8 feet wide. The large wingspan allows them to fly silently through the forest, avoiding detection by both prey and potential threats.

2nd Largest Owl in North America

2nd Largest Owl in North America

The Great horned owl, a relative of the eagle owl, is one of the largest owls in North America. The Great Gray Owls take the number one spot for the most giant owls in North America. There are many smaller subspecies of great horned owls.

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Talons and Hunting Adaptations

Great horned Owls have strong talons

Great horned owls are powerful predators, partly thanks to their strong talons. These sharp, curved claws are perfect for grasping and holding onto prey during hunting.

One of the most striking facts about this owl is its powerful grip, which has a force of about 300 – 500 pounds per square inch. This is strong enough to snatch prey and carry it away, including animals much more significant than itself, such as skunks and even other raptors.

Lifespan of the Great Horned Owl

Lifespan of the Great Horned Owl

Great horned owls have one of the longer lifespans of their kind. In the wild, they can live up to 28 years, a testament to their adaptability and survival skills. In captivity, with the absence of predators and steady access to food, they might live even longer.

They Can Survive in A Wide Range of Habitats

They Can Survive in A Wide Range of Habitats

Another exciting aspect of the Great Horned Owl is its adaptability to diverse American environments. It thrives in various habitats, from arid deserts to snowy forests, demonstrating a remarkable ability to survive and prosper wherever it goes. 

The owl’s varied diet is a testament to this adaptability; it eats everything from insects and small rodents to birds and even other owls. Learning more about where they live will help you attract owls to your yard!

Adaptation to Diverse Environments

great horned owls have Adaptation to Diverse Environments

Your feathery neighbor, the Great Horned Owl, is an adaptable, widespread bird of prey. This set of Great horned owl facts, will leave you in awe!

Whether it is in Central America, North America, South America, or Canada, they can make a cozy nest in a wide variety of habitats:

  • Forests: Both deciduous and coniferous forests are favorites.
  • Swamps & Wetlands: They find these spots perfect for hunting.
  • Deserts: These owls can even thrive in hot, arid landscapes.
  • Cities & Parks: Surprisingly, they’re not strangers to urban areas.
  • Cliffs & Trees: Look up; you might find them perched regally.
  • Grasslands: These open areas offer plenty of hunting opportunities.

Whether in the thick of dense forests or among the tall trees in a city park, Great Horned Owls are right at home. They’re just as comfortable in the swamps and wetlands, finding everything they need to thrive. So keep your eyes peeled next time you explore the great outdoors—you might glimpse this versatile and widespread bird.

Great Horned Owls in Media

Great Horned Owls in Media

Great horned owls have been featured in several movies, often symbolizing wisdom or mystery due to their striking appearance and nocturnal nature. A notable example is the Harry Potter film series, where a great horned owl briefly appears as one of the many owls delivering mail to the wizards.

Although the main owl character, Hedwig, is not a great horned owl (she’s a snowy owl), the presence of a great horned owl among the many magical scenes adds to the enchanting atmosphere of the wizarding world. Great horned owls also appear in various documentaries and nature films, where you can see their behavior, hunting skills, and habitats.

The Great Horned Owls Take Over the Nests of Other Birds 

The Great Horned Owls Take Over the Nests of Other Birds

Instead of building their own nests, great horned owls often take over abandoned nests of other large birds, like red-tailed hawks. 

Some of the most common types of nests they use include those initially made by:

  1. Red-tailed Hawks are the most commonly appropriated nests due to the widespread distribution of red-tailed hawks and their similar nesting habits.
  2. Crows – Crows often build giant, sturdy nests appealing to great horned owls.
  3. Ravens—Similar to crow nests, raven nests are robust and large, suitable for the great horned owl.
  4. Herons—Great horned owls may also use the large platform nests typically constructed by herons, which are usually found on treetops or in artificial structures.
  5. Eagles – Occasionally, great horned owls will take over abandoned eagle nests, which are significantly larger and can provide ample space for raising a brood.

These nests are usually located in high places, such as treetops, cliff edges, or even human-made structures, offering the owls a good vantage point for spotting prey and detecting potential threats.

Great Horned Owls Do Not Nest in Tree Holes

Great Horned Owls Do Not Nest in Tree Holes

Great horned owls typically do not nest in tree holes. They usually prefer to use open nests built by other large birds, such as eagles, hawks, crows, or herons. You’ll see these nests on tree branches, ledges, or even on human-made structures.

The preference for open nests is partly due to the size of the great horned owls; they are pretty large birds and may find the confined space of a tree hole too restrictive for the adult birds and their growing young.

However, when suitable open nests are scarce in rare cases, they might adapt to available nesting sites, including cavities or larger tree holes. However, this is different from their typical behavior. Their adaptability in nesting sites underscores their ability to thrive in various environments by making the most of the available resources.

These Owls Are Not Picky Eaters

These Owls Are Not Picky Eaters

Out of all of the American owls, your great-horned owl friends aren’t picky eaters. Their diet includes:

  • Mammals: Such as mice, voles, shrews, rabbits, squirrels, prairie dogs, and even larger prey like marmots and skunks.
  • Birds: They also snack on other birds like ducks, geese, and smaller raptors like hawks.
  • Reptiles & Amphibians: Watch out for them hunting snakes, frogs, and other cold-blooded critters.
  • Fish & Insects: Although not as common, they eat fish and various insects, too.

This diversity in their diet makes them highly adaptable to various environments.

The Tufts of Feathers Are Not Ears

The Tufts of Feathers Are Not Ears

One unique fact about the tufts of feathers on great horned owls, often mistaken for ears, is that they are not actually used for hearing at all. These horn-like feathers are called “plumicorns” purely for display and communication.

The ears of a great horned owl are located on the sides of their head, hidden beneath their feathers, and asymmetrically aligned, which aids in pinpointing the location of sounds more accurately.

The plumicorns can be raised or lowered and change orientation, helping the owl convey different messages, such as aggression or alertness to other owls or potential threats. This feature adds to the owl’s expressive body language and can play a crucial role in their interactions with other owls.

Great Horned Owl Nicknames

Great Horned Owl Nicknames

The great horned owl is known by several nicknames that reflect its distinctive characteristics and the awe it inspires in various cultures. Some of these nicknames include:

  1. Tiger of the Sky – This nickname (Tiger owl) refers to its powerful and predatory nature, drawing a parallel to the tiger’s status as a fierce land predator.
  2. Hoot Owl – A reference to its deep, resonating hoots, among the most recognizable sounds of North American forests at night.
  3. Winged Tiger – Similar to “Tiger of the Sky,” this name emphasizes the owl’s prowess and strength in hunting.
  4. Cat Owls – Derived from its tufted ears that resemble a cat’s ears and its eyes that can appear cat-like in the dark.

These nicknames often celebrate the great horned owl’s status as a top predator and its commanding presence in its natural environment.

Powerful Predatory Techniques

great horned owls have Powerful Predatory Techniques

Great horned owls have some impressive skills that make them expert hunters.

  • Silent Flight: Their feather edges break up air turbulence, making their flight nearly silent for stealth attacks.
  • Keen Vision: Your eyes can’t compete with an owl’s in dim light! They see prey from a distance or in low light.
  • Talons with Force: Their claws can grip incredibly strong enough to snatch and hold onto wiggling prey like squirrels and rabbits.
  • Surprise Attacks: They often perch silently before swooping down unexpectedly on their prey.

Each tactic is crucial for the owl’s hunting success and survival.

Both Parents Care for the Young Great-Horned Owls

Both Parents Care for the Young Great-Horned Owls

After the eggs hatch, you might be surprised to find both parents busy caring for the young. The young owlets depend on their parents and stay in the nest for about six weeks before they venture out. They learn to fly at around ten weeks old. Great horned owls are protective and fiercely defend their nest from predators and intruders.

Check out: A year in the life of a Great horned owl!

They Help Control Mice Populations

great horned owls They Help Control Mice Populations

Great horned owls are vital for conservation efforts because they help maintain balanced ecosystems. By being top predators, they control the population of rodents and other small mammals.

Their presence indicates a healthy environment because they require large territories with abundant prey and minimal human disturbance. They are also considered an umbrella species; protecting their habitats helps save other organisms living in the same area.

The Great Horned Owl Will Swallow its Prey Whole

The Great Horned Owl Will Swallow its Prey Whole

Great Horned Owls swallow their prey whole, then cough up pellets containing indigestible parts like bones and fur. Finding these pellets on the ground is a clear sign an owl isn’t too far off.