The Great Horned Owl is a
large (22inches, 56cm)
nocturnal owl. They are monochromatic which means that
both sexes look alike. Great Horned Owls a bulky shape
with large and prominent ear tufts. They have a white
throat patch, mottled gray, brown and black upperparts
and pale underparts with fine brown bars. They have
yellow eyes, a dark bill and reddish brown facial disks
bordered by black.
Great Horned Owls are found
year-round in most of North America and parts of Central America.
They are adapted to live in all habitats except for artic-alpine
regions. Great Horned Owls prefer habitats of coniferous and
deciduous woodlands, deserts, open country, along coasts and in
urban areas. Great Horned Owls are primarily
nocturnal perch hunters, but have been reported to hunt in broad
daylight. They are generalist and opportunist feeders which makes
them have the broadest diet of any North American owl. The variety
of their diet ranges from scorpions to rodents, to ducks, geese and
herons, though they eat mostly mammals the further north they are.
Many Great Horned Owls will also cache prey meaning they store their
prey for later consumption.
Great Horned Owls hunt
prey at night and because of this have adapted hearing
that allows them to better sense their prey. The
feathers located just outside the ears acts as
a reflector to channel sounds into their asymmetrical ears. Once a
sound is heard, the owl can pinpoint a location with 1.5
degrees in both the horizontal and vertical planes. Owls
also have the ability to be silent hunters because of
the structural modification of the first primary feather
on each wing. The edge of the feather is serrated,
instead of being smooth, which disrupts the flow of air
over the wing in flight. This disrupts the vortex heard
when air flows over a smooth surface. During a Great Horned Owl's courtship
display, the play will perform a noisy aerial display then ritually
feed the female. They are believed to have a monogamous mating
system and have one brood per year. It's believed that the female
will build the nest in an abandoned tree nest of a raptor, corvid or
sometimes squirrel. It can also be in a tree cavity or stump. Great
Horned Owl nests will be used the nest year if they had success at
that site the previous year. Females will lay 2-3 dull white eggs
and will incubate them with some help from the male for the 25-36
day period. The young are semialtricial when hatched and hatch
asynchronously. They are downy, immobile, blind and fed when
hatched. Both parents will care for the young until they fledge
which is 35 days after hatching.
Great Horned Owls are found sporadically over all of
Western New York and much luck and perseverance is need to see them
but they can be found here in WNY at anytime of year.
As a result of their nocturnal nature it is best to go out during
the dawn or dusk to see them.