Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) is a very large owl found in wooded or heavily shrubbed areas across North America and parts of South America. They are permanent residents, but may wander after the nesting season.

Adults have large ear tufts, a reddish face, a white patch on the throat, and yellow eyes. The ear tufts are not actually ears, but just tufts of fur. 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 regional variations in color; birds farther north are paler.

During breeding they often take over a nest used by some other large bird, sometimes adding feathers to line the nest but usually not much more.

These birds wait on a high perch at night and swoop down on prey. Their diet consists of mainly mammals, such as rats, mice, rabbits and skunks, and birds, as well as smaller owls. In northern regions, they may let uneaten food freeze and then thaw it out later using their own body heat. They have excellent hearing and exceptional vision in low light conditions.

Unlike human hearing, owls have a sort of depth perception to their hearing, above and beyond “louder is closer”. This is possible because owl ears are not 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 their head until the sound is the same in each ear the owl can pinpoint both the direction and precise distance to the source of a sound.

The call is a low-pitched hoo hoo hoo hoo, sometimes with five syllables rather than four.

The Great Horned Owl is the provincial bird for Alberta.