Great Horned Owl

Bubo virginianus

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Photo of a great horned owl on a tree branch
Great horned owls have almost no sense of smell, and they are among the few animals that will eat skunks.
Noppadol Paothong
Family

Strigidae (owls) in the order Strigiformes

Description

A large owl with wide-set ear tufts, a reddish, brown or gray face and a white throat. The iris is yellow. The upper parts are mottled brown; the underparts are light with brown barring.

Size

Length: 22 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

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Closeup photo of great horned owl face
Great Horned Owl
Great horned owls are large, with wide-set ear tufts, a white throat, and yellow irises.

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Photo of female great horned owl and chicks at nest hole
Great Horned Owl Female And Chicks At Nest Hole
Great horned owls often nest in cavities in trees, often abandoned nests of other animals.

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Photo of two great horned owl chicks at entrance of nest hole
Great Horned Owl Nestlings
Young great horned owls tend to stay near their parents until the next breeding season.

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Closeup photo of head of great horned owl chick
Great Horned Owl (Chick)
The eyes of owls do not rotate in their sockets, but owls can easily turn their heads to look completely behind them.

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Video of a great horned owl.

Great horned owl in Creve Coeur, MO

Great horned owl in Creve Coeur, MO
Great horned owl in Creve Coeur, MO

Great horned owl chicks in Creve Coeur, MO

Great horned owl chicks in Creve Coeur, MO
Great horned owl chicks in Creve Coeur, MO
Habitat and conservation

Great horned owls are found in many habitats, from deep forests to urban areas.

Foods

Prey includes mice, insects, crows, snakes and rabbits; great horned owls have been known to take barred owls, wild turkeys and other larger animals, including skunks.

image of Great Horned Owl Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Common statewide, in most habitats, from forest to urban areas.

Status

Common permanent resident.

Life cycle

These owls are nocturnal, with sharp eyes and keen hearing. They observe quietly from a high perch and swoop down to catch prey. Breeding occurs in late January or early February, following a few months of hooting. They often appropriate old nests of other large birds or squirrels but can also nest in cavities or other places. Clutches average 2 eggs, incubation lasts about a month, and young tend to stay near their parents until the next breeding season.

Human connections

Great horned owls help reduce populations of mice, rats and other rodents that can be troublesome for humans.

Ecosystem connections

As predators, great horned owls play an important role in the wildlife community. Their eggs and young are preyed upon by other predators, including foxes, coyotes and carnivores.