Big Sky Wildlife Spotlight: Great Horned Owls

The Great Horned Owl, or Burbo virginianus, is the most widespread owl species in North America. These adaptable birds of prey range from the Arctic to South America where they can be found from river beds to treeline. Great Horned Owls are often migratory birds, but they can be found in Montana all year long. Listen closely at night and you just might spot one.

Great Horned Owl | Pixabay Image

Great Horned Owl | Pixabay Image

Great Horned Owls are nocturnal raptors that are known to be quite strong and stealthy. It's more likely that you'll hear the distinctive four to five syllable who-hoo-hoo-who than to actually see one of these wise raptors in the wild.

Let's take a look at some interesting facts about great horned owls:

  • Great horned owls are 20 to 25 inches tall and weigh 3 to 4 pounds.
  • They have a wingspan ranging from 39 to 57 inches.
  • A soft coat of feathers insulates them from the winter cold.
  • An owl's color varies by location and is designed to be camouflaged to their surroundings.
  • Their feathered "plumicorns" resemble horns, which is where the Great Horned Owl name originates form.

Great Horned Owl | Pixabay Image
Great Horned Owl | Pixabay Image

  • The oldest wild great horned owl lived to be 28 years old, but they have been known to live to be 50 years old in captivity.
  • A great horned owl can fly up to 40 MPH in level flight.
  • Females are larger than males, but males have a deeper sounding voice.
  • These raptors have giant cat-like yellow eyes that do not move.
  • Since their eyes don't move, they turn their head to see in different directions.
  • Great horned owls cannot turn their heads all the way around. They have 14 vertebrates that allow their heads to turn 270 degrees.
  • They have excellent night vision due to numerous rod cells in eyes.
  • Great horned owls are carnivores that hunt at nighttime and prey on skunks, hares, rats, mice, voles, raptors, crows, and other creatures.
  • Owls usually swallow their prey whole then regurgitate pellets of undigestible bones, fur, and feather about 6 to 10 hours later.
  • Great horned owls are monogamous and mate for life.
  • They are very protective parents that will hiss, scream, and strike when intruders come near.
  • These protective parents take turns incubating eggs.
  • They are one of the earliest nesting birds in North America.
  • They do not build nests, but instead find abandoned ones to nest in or they nest in snags, hollow trees, or cliff cavities.
  • Females lay two to three eggs every year.
  • Owlets fly on their own by 10 to 12 weeks.

Great Horned Owl Eyes | Pixabay Image
Great Horned Owl | Pixabay Image

When you're in Big Sky Country, listen for the distinctive hoot of the great horned owl when you're in the woods. These birds of prey are hard to spot, but it's very cool when you do see one perched in a tree. Always give them the respect that they deserve.

If you capture a cool wildlife photo of a great horned owl when you're in Big Sky Country be sure to share it on social media with #visitbigsky.

See Also:

Learn more interesting facts about great horned owls from these sources: