Great Horned Owl
Bubo virginianus -Canada-6
Great Horned Owl (Ontario, Canada)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Inopinaves
Clade: Afroaves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae
Subfamily: Striginae
Tribe: Bubonini
Genus: Bubo
Species: B. virginianus
Binomial name
Bubo virginianus
Gmelin, 1788

Strix virginiana Gmelin, 1788
and see text

The Great Horned Owl, (Bubo virginianus; BEW-boh ver-jin-ih-AY-nus[2]), 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. It is closely related to the Lesser Horned Owl, which may be a separate species.[3]

Other names

Big hoot owl, cat owl, chicken owl, eagle owl, hoot owl, horned owl, king owl, Virginia horned owl.[2]


They measure 45–64 cm (18–25 in) in length, they weigh 900–2,503 g (1.984–5.518 lb) and their wingspan is 91–152 cm (36–60 in). Females are 10-20% larger than males,[4] they can weigh on average, 700 g (25 oz) more than the male.[5]

The Great Horned Owl is a large owl with iconic yellow-orange eyes and two prominent feather tufts on the tops of their heads.[6] These tufts gave the owl it's best-known name. The plumage of the owl can vary from a reddish brown to a grey or black and white;[6] in Canada, can range from very dark in the Maritimes to almost as pale as the Snowy Owl.[7] The underside is a light grey with dark bars and a white band of feathers on the throat.[6] They have large feet that are feathered to the ends of the toes.[6] The immature birds tend to resemble the adults.[6]

In flight, as large as our American hawks; looks neckless and large-headed.[7]

Similar species

OWL Swimming in Lake Michigan 2014

OWL Swimming in Lake Michigan 2014

A Great Horned Owl swimming in Lake Michigan.

Great Horned is larger than Long-eared Owl, Great Horned's ear tufts are more spread apart.[6][8][9][10]

Snowy Owl is similar in size, but only the subarctic race of the Great Horned could be confused with the female Snowy.[5]

The Lesser Horned Owl is smaller, and its range hardly overlaps in range; it is paler, with a smaller bill and weaker talons; below, it is more finely barred dark and light. It also has a different vocalization.[5]

In northern parts of its American range, its distinctive calls may be confused with the Great Grey Owl. However, it lacks ear tufts and a has a large, rounded head, small yellow eyes and grey plumage with dark markings.[5]


Nocturnal. In Colombia, it roosts and nests in tall palms at Carimagua, ne Meta (S. Furniss).[11]

On December 4, 2014, a man named Steve Spitzer took video and photos of an owl swimming in Lake Michigan, Chicago. It was attempted to escape Peregrines that were harassing it.[12]


It takes any prey from insect size to hares, geese and turkeys.[13] In Colombia, it preys upon a variety of medium-sized mammals, such as coatis and rabbits, and two species of snipe in the Andes (Lehmann, 1946).[14][11]

Here are some examples of its prey:

*=Species not identified

Table based on: [15]


Call is a series of three to eight loud, deep hoots; second and third hoots often short and rapid,[10] repeated fully or in part at intervals of several seconds[5], has great carrying power.[2] Juvenile birds give off a raspy begging call.[10]

The young follow the adults when on the wing, utter blood-curdling screams (hunger cries).[2] Adults lean forward when hooting, vibrate their white throat feathers and lift their short tails, and respond to imitation of their cries.[2]


It usually uses the nests of Red-tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle, heron and crow, or occasionally an old leaf nest of a squirrel; 15–70 ft (4.6–21.3 m) up.[2] Also, in rocky caves of cliffs, in hollows of trees and even on the ground.[32][2]



  1. ^ BirdLife International (BLI) (2008). Bubo virginianus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 15 April 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Terres, John K. (1980). The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. ISBN 0394466519. 
  3. ^ Holt, D.W., Berkley, R., Deppe, C., Enríquez Rocha, P., Petersen, J.L., Rangel Salazar, J.L., Segars, K.P. & Wood, K.L. (1999). Magellanic Horned Owl (Bubo magellanicus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 11 October 2015).
  4. ^ Matthew Graul and Barbara Holzman, PhD. (editor) (12/16/2003). "Great Horned Owl". San Francisco State University. Retrieved 14-07-2020.  Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  5. ^ a b c d e Mikkola, Heimo (2012). Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide. Firefly Books Ltd. ISBN 9781770851368. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Stokes, Donald W. and Stokes, Lilian Q. (2010). Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 9770316010504 Check |isbn= value: invalid prefix (help). 
  7. ^ a b Peterson, Roger Tory (1980). A Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies. Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 039526619X. 
  8. ^ Peterson, Roger Tory (1961). A Field Guide to Western Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 039513692X. 
  9. ^ Bellrose, Frank C. and The Audubon Society (1983). The Audubon Society Master Guide to Birding. National Geographic Society. ISBN 1426200722. 
  10. ^ a b c Dunn, Jon L. and Alderfer, Jonathan (2011). National Geographic Guide to the Birds of North America. National Geographic Society. ISBN 1426200722. 
  11. ^ a b Hilty, Steven L.; Brown, William L.; Tudor, Guy (1986). A Guide to the Birds of Colombia. Princeton University Press. ISBN 069108372X. 
  12. ^ Arciero, Ryan (4 December 2014). "Owl swimming Lake Michigan: Video of owl swimming with skill, butterfly stroke". The Examiner. Retrieved 12 January 2015. 
  13. ^ Harrison, Colin and Greensmith, Alan (1993). Birds of the World. Dorling Kindersley Inc. ISBN 1564582965. 
  14. ^ Lehmann, V.F.C. (1946). Two new birds from the Andes of Colombia. Auk 63:218-223.
  15. ^ a b Kittredge, V.C., Wilson, P.W., and Caire, W. 2006. An updated checklist of the food items of the great horned owl (Bubo virginianus: Strigiformes: Strigidae) in Oklahoma. Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Science, 86:33-38.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Baumgartner AM, Baumgartner FM. 1944. Hawks and owls in Oklahoma 1939-1942: food habits and population changes. Wilson Bull 56(4):209-215.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Schemnitz SD, Ables E. 1962. [Notes on the food habits of the Great Horned Owl in western Oklahoma Notes on the food habits of the Great Horned Owl in western Oklahoma]. Condor 64:328-329.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h Sutton GM. 1967. Oklahoma Birds. Norman (OK): University of Oklahoma Press. 257 p
  19. ^ a b c Baumgartner AM, Baumgartner FM. 1992. [[Oklahoma Bird Life]]. Norman (OK): University Oklahoma Press. 532 p.
  20. ^ a b Chesser RK, Kennedy ML. 1976. Predation on the free-tailed bat by the Great Horned Owl. Bull Okla Ornith Soc 9:1-3.
  21. ^ John H. Boyd III (July 6, 2011). "PALEOGNATHS and ANSERIFORMES Ratites, Tinamous, and Waterfowl". TiF Checklist. Retrieved 14-07-2020.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  22. ^ Byre VJ. 1995. Proximal nesting of Barred Owls, Great Horned Owls and Red-shouldered Hawks in Cleveland County, Oklahoma. Bull Okla Ornith Soc 28:22-24.
  23. ^ John H. Boyd III (September 12, 2011). "CORE PASSEROIDEA IV: Emberizidae and Passerellidae". TiF Checklist. Retrieved 14-07-2020.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h Tyler JD, Jensen JF. 1981. Notes on foods of Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) in Jackson County, Oklahoma. Proc Okla Acad Sci 61:28-30.
  25. ^ a b c Smith KS. 1996. A new microtine (Microtus) record for Kiowa County, Oklahoma. Proc Okla Acad Sci 76:97-98.
  26. ^ a b c d Smith KS. 1993. Owl pellets reveal Cryptotis parva, a new record for Caddo County, Oklahoma. Proc Okla Acad Sci 73:29-30.
  27. ^ Twente JW. 1954. Predation on bats by hawks and owls. Wilson Bull 66:135-136.
  28. ^ Taylor J. 1964. Noteworthy predation on the guano bat. J Mamm 45:300-301.
  29. ^ Perry AE, Rogers G. 1964. Predation by the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) on young Mexican freetailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis Mexicana) in Major County, Oklahoma. Southw Nat 9:205.
  30. ^ Looney MW. 1972. Predation on bats by hawks and owls. Bull Okla Ornith Soc 5:1-4.
  31. ^ Caire W, Ports M. 1981. An adaptive method of predation by Bubo virginianus (Strigiformes: Strigidae) on Mexican free-tailed bats (Chiroptera: Mollosidae). Southw Nat 26:69-70.
  32. ^ Truslow, F.K (1966). Ground-nesting great horned owl: A photographic study. Living Bird, 5th annual, pp. 177-86.

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