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Species Description

Great Horned Owl

Bubo virginianus

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Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae


Mottled browns overall; rusty colored facial discs (round areas surrounding its eyes) accented by a black margin; white throat. 56 cm (22 in) in length. The Great Horned Owl is the largest owl occurring in the southern United States. The Great Horned Owl's name refers to its size (great) and its "horns," the ear tufts that help distinguish it from the other large owls. The call of this owl is a long series of hooo's.

Life Cycle

The breeding season begins in mid-December, peaks in mid-January to March, and extends until late April. The Great Horned Owl nests in a variety of wooded habitats, on top of nests abandoned by animals such as hawks, crows, or squirrels. The female lays 1-6 (usually 2-3) eggs that she incubates for 26-35 days. The male feeds the female while she is on the eggs. The young are semi-altricial, and fledge about 35 days after hatching. Both adults care for the young while they remain in the nest.

Natural History

This owl occurs in wooded areas. It hunts mostly during the night, perching on a lower tree limb (or other perch) with a good view. When it sees a food item, it swoops down to capture it. Its diet includes small mammals (especially rabbits and rodents), birds, small vertebrates, amphibians, and occasionally some fish and insects.


Great Horned Owl Region Map The Great Horned Owl occurs in the continental United States throughout the year. In all of the Southeast it is fairly common.

Conservation Status

This species may be limited in part of its range by nesting substrates. It will occasionally use nest boxes. The Great Horned Owl is common and is not listed as Threatened or Endangered in its southeastern range.

Similar Species

The most similar species to this owl is the Long-eared Owl. The Long-eared Owl is much smaller than the Great Horned Owl, being only 38 cm (15 in) in length. The Long-eared Owl is also much thinner in appearance, and its ear tufts are closer together, which adds to the thinner appearance. The Barred Owl is another common owl in the Southeast that could be mistaken for the Great Horned Owl. A Barred Owl lacks the ear tufts and it has a different song than the Great Horned Owl.