BOM: Great Horned Owl
Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
The great horned owl, also known as the tiger owl or the hoot owl, is a large owl native to the Americas. It is an extremely adaptable bird with a vast range and is the most widely distributed true owl in the Americas. Its primary diet includes rabbits and hares, rats and mice and voles, although it freely hunts any animal it can overtake, including rodents and other small mammals, larger mid-sized mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.
Typically great horned owls stand 18 to 25 inches tall with a wingspan of 36 to 60 inches weigh anywhere between 2 to 4 pounds. They can live to 30 years in captivity, though in the wild the average is 10 to 15 years. In general, they have brown body plumage with white throat feathers and their belly and breast have dark horizontal bars. As the name implies these owls have large "horned" ear tufts that are set far apart on the head. Their facial disk may range from gray to an orange-tan with large yellow eyes with black pupils.
Great horned owls inhabit a wide variety of places ranging from desert canyons to mountain forests. They typically nest in trees near open areas. In the Reno and surrounding areas, they are often found in city parks, urban areas and associated with agriculture. It is an extremely adaptable bird with a vast range and is the most widely distributed true owl in the Americas.
Great Horned Owls roost in trees, snags, thick brush, cavities, ledges, and human-made structures. They are active mostly during the night-especially at dusk and before dawn. When food supplies are low they may begin hunting in the evening and continue into the early morning; in winter they may hunt during daylight hours.
Mated owl pairs are monogamous and defend their territories with vigorous hooting, especially in the winter before egg-laying and in the fall when their young leave the area. Great Horned Owls respond to intruders and other threats with bill-clapping, hisses, screams, and guttural noises, eventually spreading their wings and striking with their feet if the threat escalates. Both members of a mated pair may stay within the territory outside of the breeding season, but they roost separately.
Fun Fact: Great horned owls are Nevada's largest nocturnal bird of prey. If the great horned owl was as big as a human, its eyes would be the size of oranges. Its ears are not symmetrical. The right ear is often larger and higher up on the head than the left ear. By turning and tilting its head until the sound is of equal value in both ears, great horned owls can locate their prey by sound only.
For more information on Great Horned Owls, visit one of the three Moana Nursery store locations: 1100 W. Moana Ln. & 11301 S. Virginia St., Reno and 7644 Pyramid Hwy., Sparks.
Carmel Ruiz-Hilton is Manager of Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shops at Moana Nursery in Reno/Sparks