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Great Horned Owl

Scientific name: Bubo virginus

This large nocturnal owl has a distinctive appearance which is characterized by its wide-set ear tufts and big yellow eyes. They have excellent night vision for hunting and a keen sense of hearing as well.  Their claws are very strong which enable it to hold onto its prey, which could well be live and struggling. It is estimated that it takes 28 pounds of pressure to open this grasp. There are only a few bird species where the female is larger than the male and this is one of them. The hypothesis is that the females over time have favored the smaller male as a mate, perhaps for their own safety.

Photo Courtesy of Missouri Department of Environmental Conservation


Just over 3 pounds


22 inches

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The diet of this owl is varied. They will eat everything from mammals like mice, to small birds, insects and even snakes!


This owl has adapted to living in a wide range of habitats. Anywhere that has a good source of food and shelter is game. Locally look at areas where woods are interspersed with fields.

Life Cycle

These can be long-lived birds. The oldest known one was 28 years old.

Ecosystem Connections

  • They nest in tree cavities which have been excavated by other animals.
  • Crows are often hunted by the Great Horned Owl, but if a group of crows finds an owl, they will harass it for hours!

Fun Facts

This owl has a poor sense of smell and is one of the few predators of the skunk.


The characteristic sound is a deep hoot. Pairs will often hoot and call to each other. Click here to listen to a variety of sounds these birds can make!

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