20 Interesting Facts about the Great Horned Owl

I’ve never found it easy to find an owl when I am out with my camera. Harder yet is finding the opportunity to photograph one. With their nocturnal nature, they are active when I am not. Still, every once in a while you get fortunate and have the opportunity to see one in the wild and photograph it. It’s always a thrill.

Reading about the Great Horned Owl is fascinating. There is so much to learn and discover. Here are a few of the facts that I found the most interesting.

  • The Great Horned Owls is also known as the tiger owl or the hoot owl
  • The Great Horned Owl’s eyes don’t move in their sockets, but they can swivel their heads more than 180 degrees to look in any direction.


  • Since Great Horned Owls are one of the main predators of crows and their young, crows will sometimes congregate from considerable distances to mob owls and caw angrily at them for hours on end. When the owl tries to fly off to avoid this harassment, it is often followed by the mob of crows.
  • 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
  • North American Great Horned Owls are not migratory and will generally remain in the same territory year around.
  • The Great Horned Owl will usually adopt a nest that was built by another species, but they also use cavities in live trees, dead snags, deserted buildings, cliff ledges, and human-made platforms.
  • The Great Horned Owl is one of the earliest nesting birds in North America, often laying eggs weeks or even months before other raptors.
  • Typically, male Great Horned Owls have a favorite roosting site not far from the nest. While roosting, Great Horned Owls may rest in the “tall-thin” position, where they sit as erect as possible and hold themselves as slim as they can. This kind of posture is well known as a method of camouflage for other owls, like long-eared owls or great grey owls


  • Due to their short but broad wings, Great Horned Owls are ideally suited for low speed and maneuverability
  • Great Horned Owls can fly at speeds of more than 40 mph in level flight
  • When clenched, a Great Horned Owl’s strong talons require a force of 28 pounds to open.
  • It is estimated that a family of Great Horned Owls with two offspring would need to take about a half dozen voles to a dozen mice every night to satisfy their dietary requirements.
  • Great Horned Owls hunt mainly by watching from a snag, pole or other high perch, sometimes completely concealed by the dusky night and/or partially hidden by foliage.
  • The Great Horned Owl’s hunting activity tends to peak between 8:30 pm until midnight and then can pick back up from 4:30 am to sunrise
  • Almost all prey of the Great Horned Owl is killed by crushing with the owl’s feet or by incidentally stabbing of the talons.
  • The Great Horned Owl’s prey is swallowed whole when possible.


  • When prey is swallowed whole, Great Horned Owls regurgitate pellets of bone and other non-digestible bits about 6 to 10 hours later. Great Horned Owl pellets are dark gray or brown in color and are very large, 3.0 to 4.0 inches long and 1.5 inches thick, and have been known to contain skulls up to 1.2 inches wide.
  • The Great Horned Owl’s signature method when dealing with large prey is to behead the victim before it is taken to the owl’s nest or eating perch. In a study conducted in Kansas, out of 28 kills, 60% of prey items were found to have been decapitated. The prey’s legs may also be removed, as will (in some bird prey) the wings. The Great Horned Owl will also crush the bones of its prey to make it more compact for carrying.
  • In frigid areas, where larger prey cannot be eaten quickly, the Great Horned Owl may let uneaten food freeze and then thaw it out later using its own body heat.
  • The oldest Great Horned Owl on record was at least 28 years old when it was found in Ohio in 2005.

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  1. Haley HaleyMarch 2, 2017   this was sooo cool i found a lot of facts
    • Richard RichardMarch 2, 2017   Hi Haley. I am very glad to hear that the information here was helpful to you.


  2. Sheena SheenaMarch 18, 2017   Hi,

    Can you give me more information as to why great horned owls decapitate larger prey? Do they kill larger prey by immediately going for the head and crushing it with their talons? Or do they crush elsewhere until their prey is dead and then rip off the head? If you could direct me to any scholarly articles as to why this is their preferred hunting style when it comes to larger prey that would be great.

    • Richard RichardMarch 18, 2017   Hi Sheena,

      I believe that the reason the owl crushes and decapitates the large prey to make it easier to fly away with it. Crushing it makes it easier to carry and decapitating it makes it lighter to fly off with it.

      I found this piece of information in a Wikipedia article about Great Horned Owls. The Wikipedia article’s footnote references “Olmsted, R. O. (1950). Feeding habits of Great Horned Owls, Bubo virginianus. The Auk, 515-516”

      I hope that this helps.


  3. Tatum TatumApril 12, 2017   HI,
    Can Great Horned Owls really fly up to more than 40 miles per hour? If so how do we know that did we test them with a mph scanner? Why do they have to regurtitate their food I know they can’t digest hair and bones but niether can we so what is th e big deal? Can Great Horned Owls poop and pee? Please help have a quiz tommorow need notes HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Richard RichardApril 12, 2017   Hi Tatum,

      You have great questions! I am afraid that you will need to ask them of someone who has more direct knowledge than I have. I have obtained my knowledge from reading various reference articles, but my knowledge does not go beyond them. It sounds like you need to seek out a specialist in the field. Sorry that I could not be of further help. I wish you the best with your research… and your quiz.


  4. P beavin P beavinApril 14, 2017   Hello,
    We have a pair of owls who sat in a tree down by our creek. They talked back and forth til the end of February . We have not heard or seen them since that time. During the time they were here I found pellets by the big tree they sat in. I am concerned that they have moved on, or that they have been dislocated because of a fierce wind storm packing 90 mile an hour winds. Is this normal that they have suddenly disappeared?

    • Richard RichardApril 14, 2017   Hi,

      I did a little quick reading because I wondered if the answer was that it was time for the owls to migrate north. However, based on what I am reading it says that owls do not migrate like other birds. However, it did mention that Great Horned Owls are known to wander long distances in fall and winter. It also said they begin nesting very early in the north. So, it seems possible that perhaps your two owls went off a distance to set up housekeeping to prepare to raise some young. That would be one thought.

      Hope this helps.


  5. Blake BlakeApril 20, 2017   We have a great horned owl that perches on our roof every night. Sometimes we go out there and play a recording of a great horned owl (from the sibley bird app) and the owl calls back. The owl also commonly spreads his wings up and out when we play this. Do you know what this behavior means? Interested to know if he is making himself look bigger (for a mate) or if he is feeling threatened.
    • Richard RichardApril 20, 2017   Hi Blake,

      That is an interesting situation that you have.

      I really don’t know why the owl is spreading its wings. I would be interested to find out too. My first thought is that it feels threatened and so is trying to make itself look larger to a potential predictor, but that is only a guess. It would be interesting to learn what their mating habits are and if you are witnessing some of them.


  6. horny the owl horny the owlMay 10, 2017   this is epic
  7. ian gholson ian gholsonJanuary 3, 2018   This is 20 facts
    I like this
    I need it for school.

    • Richard RichardJanuary 3, 2018   Hi Ian,

      I am glad that the information could help you out


  8. Katheu Hanh Katheu HanhFebruary 22, 2018   The facts are helping me for school on bird project. Thank you UNKNOWN creator!
  9. brooklynn brooklynnMarch 2, 2018   in my classroom right now we are writing about ether a porcupine or a great horned owl sorry i gotta go by everyone start putting videos and cute picchturs of the baby great horned owls. see ya later sincerly , Brooklynnn greene school: hawthorne 3rd,everett wa.
    • Richard RichardMarch 2, 2018   Hi. Thanks for stopping by.
  10. Christy ChristyApril 14, 2018   Hi! We have at least one (I suspect there are 2, but have only seen the one) Great Horned Owl living in a large Eucalyptus tree in our yard. A couple of years ago, we HAD a small cat named, “Baby”. She was always an indoor cat, however she got out around dusk on evening. She was RIGHT next to me but something else got my attention for just a minute…anyway, I turn back to pick her up & bring her in and she was just GONE! . We looked
    EVERYWHERE but alas, we never found her. I had thought I may have heard a “swooshing” sound and I have always wondered if she got picked up by the owl. Do owls normally grab up pets for food? There has never been a shortage of mice, etc. in our yard. Also, I’ve heard that when an owl picks up its prey, it uses its talons to cover the face or eyes of its prey as to confuse it and/or do that to avoid being bitten. Is that true? I have also heard they break the neck of animals too. Which do you suppose is more likely?
    I’ve missed my kitty dearly and have always wondered….
    Can you please help me get some answers?
    Thank you in advance.

    • Richard RichardApril 14, 2018   Hi Chirsty,

      First of all, let me say that I am so sorry to hear that you lost your cat. I know that losing a pet can be a painful and sad time. I am sure that you missed her.

      I should make it clear that I am not an expert on owls (or any bird). I am interested in birds and I like to share the things that I have learned in my posts on this blog. That being said, here are my thoughts.

      I reviewed my notes and found that owls primary diet appears to be rabbits and hares, rats and mice and voles. They will occasionally take larger animals, but when they do they have a problem flying away with it because of the larger animal’s weight and size. When this happens, the owl will sever the head (and possible the legs) of the larger animals to reduce the weight so it can fly away with large animal. They might also use their strong talons to crush the larger animal’s body to make it more compact – again to enable the owl to fly away with it.

      I share these gruesome facts because I am assuming that your cat was probably larger than a rabbit and would have given the owl some trouble if it tried to fly away with it. If the owl had needed to take any of the gruesome steps listed above, it would have taken some time and you would have heard or seen something. Also keep in mind that although an owl is a silent hunter, your cat would probably not have been a silent prey. I assume that you would have heard a scream from the cat at the first touch of the sharp talons or would have heard a scuffle or a fight as the cat tried to get away – even if it was only for a moment. This would be especially true since you were right beside it. Again, my thinking is that the owl may have been a silent hunter, but your cat (which you were standing right beside) had no desire to be a silent prey.

      Based on my estimation (and that is all that it is), I am thinking that your cat was probably not taken by an owl because I think that you would have heard or seen something from the cat. That is what I am thinking.

      I hope this was helpful.



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