Back to Back Issues Page
Great Horned Owl
December 02, 2019

Thank You Everyone for the Thanksgivings Wishes and Blessings.

I is difficult to respond to each one individually.

We truly have a lot to be thankful for.

Now, like us, many of you are gearing up for the Christmas season.

Sadly, too much emphasis is
directed on the commercial part, and not on the 'Reason for the Season'.

I digress.

We went to bed Saturday night to a light rain.

Awakened by a Thunderstorm sometime during the night.

And woke up to several inches of Heavy, Wet Snow.

Just what I want to do before church.

Shovel the ramp and part of the drive, so we can get Yolanda in the van.

We made it, however.

Here are a few pictures from Sunday afternoon.

The bottom shows a clump of cranberries from the Highbush Cranberry Viburnum, and a branch of a Winterberry.

Here is a reminder for fresh and clean water as well.

Locate water sources near your house where it is easier for you to maintain.

Even in the winter months, birds drink and on occasion bathe.

They also defecate in the water.

While birds will and do eat snow to keep hydrated, snow is harmful to a bird.

Eating cold snow takes heat and energy to melt and warm up.

Energy that birds can't afford to lose.

Once again, this can be a matter of life or death.

With all of the enjoyment our feathered friends bring to us, shouldn't you and I give something back?

Every so often I write on a certain bird.

This time I chose the "Great horned owl."

It is probably the most recognized owl in North America and for sure the most aggressive owl.

Like me, a few of you are blessed enough to have a resident pair live nearby.

You may even be blessed enough to host these large birds of prey and I'm sure you can tell me a thing or two,

Great Horned Owls.


Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus):

Large in stature and magnificent in flight, the Great Horned Owl is a beautiful bird that is commonly heard, though rarely seen.

Already well-known as symbols of wisdom and warnings of impending doom, there is much more to the Great Horned than the myths and legends that surround owls.

The Great Horned owl, the most powerful of the common owls, is a visually stunning creature.

It is distinguished by its large size, and the feather tufts on its head that resembles horns (and often mistaken for its ears).

Their big, yellow eyes are often compared to those of a cat, and are amplified by the orange facial disk outlined in black.

The coloring of the body – hues of browns and grays with black bar markings, make the owl's white throat very prominent.

Great horned owls are 18 to 25 inches in length.

Also standing out is the span of its great wings, approximately 4 - 5 feet from tip to tip.

As with most birds of prey, the female is larger than the male.

The female is often 20% to 30% larger than males.

Males can weigh 3 pounds plus while the much larger female can top the scales at 4 to 5 pounds, plus a few ounces more.

Great horned owls will aggressively protect their territory from other owls and have been known to take on Osprey successfully.

Though eagles and owls try to avoid each other, Great horned owls and eagles will tangle from time to time.

Don't get to close to the nest sight, or you may be wearing some stitches later on.

Yes, they can be that aggressive.

Owls are mostly nocturnal creatures but can sometimes be spotted in the late afternoon or early morning.

Like most owls, Great Horned Owls have keen hearing and sharp vision in low light, both adaptations for hunting at night.

An owl can only not see what is right in front of them, but it is able to turn its head over halfway around to see what is behind them.

Because an owl's eyes are fixed (they can't roll them, look out of corners or move them up and down), an owl must have the ability to turn its head.

An extra vertebra (14 in all) allows the owl to turn its head 270 degrees right, or left and this gives the appearance that an owl can turn its head all the way around.

Owls have a third, opaque eye membrane, called the nictitating membrane.This membrane helps to clean the eye of material and protect the eye from the brightness of day or foreign objects at night.

Pupils can also dilate as fast as we can turn on and off a light (I've seen this with captive owls).

Their beak, small and hooked, does not interfere with their binocular vision which helps determine the distance of their prey.

Owls can also catch their prey by using their sense of hearing.

Their large ears are covered by special feathers and are located behind the facial dish feathers.

These feathers allow the owl to hear even the smallest sound (like a mouse squeaking) up to 900 feet away.

Can you only imagine how "Nature" has equipped these birds?

Their ears are located on the sides of the head, but are off-set, not symmetrical like human ears.

The openings of the ears are slightly tilted in different directions - often the right ear is longer and set higher up on the skull.

Plus, owls have soft feathers that surround the openings which they can spread to make a funnel for sound to enter the ear.

This enables the owl to use "triangulation" to pinpoint the source of a sound, when the prey can not be seen.

By tilting or moving their head until the sound is of equal volume in each ear, the owl can pinpoint the direction and distance of the sound.

Studies have shown owls hunting in pitch dark rooms using only their hearing and having very successful kill ratios.

For hunting at night, an owl could do this strictly by sound if there weren't obstacles in the way.

Talk about STEALTH:

Owl feathers are soft, almost like polar fleece to the touch.

This helps to deaden the sound of air rushing over the feathers while the bird is in flight.

Also the front edge of the first primary or wing feather is toothed like a hand saw.

This helps wind pass over the wings and keep the bird's flight noiseless.

It wouldn't be easy to catch prey at night if you were crashing around in the dark.

I've spotted owls flying right over me and not one sound like you hear with other birds.

Owls are more of a perch and wait predator (I frequently see this with the resident pare).

With this in mind, they are more inclined to glide than fly as well which calls for less wing flapping.

Like most birds, owls have four toes on each foot, .

Instead of having three toes in front and one in back, an owls outer toe is reversible.

It can rotate so that there are two toes in front and two in back.

This helps the owl grip a perch but also creates a bigger "mitt" when it swoops down to catch prey.

Great horned owls can stretch their powerful toes and talons out to 4" by 8" area or almost the size of a human hand

This comes in handy as these powerful sharp talons come crashing into a target.

The large powerful claws not only increase hunting abilities, but also allow owls to catch and carry larger prey.

Sometimes 2 to 3 times the size or weight then the bird itself.

Let's see....................

A four pound owl times 2 or 3......................

That is an 8 to 12 pound kill it can carry off.

Keep an eye on your small pets.

Tests have shown that owl feet are so powerful, that it takes more than 28 pounds of pressure to open their feet.

Not only are they strong, but they can grab and crush as well.


(Great-Horned owl Home Range.)

Great horned owls do not breed until they are 2 years old.

Nesting season is in January or February, even in the cold Northern climates.

This is the time of year I start hearing the Hoots, and see an occasional silhouette on a not so distant tree.

When close they bow to each other, with drooped wings.

Mutual bill rubbing and preening also occurs.

They do not build a nest of their own but utilize the nests of other birds such as the hawk, crow and heron.

They may also use squirrel nests, hollows in trees, rocky caves, clumps of witches broom, abandoned buildings, or on artificial platforms.


They are extremely aggressive when defending the nest and will continue to attack until the intruder is killed or driven off.

Normally, two to four eggs are laid and incubated by the female and sometimes both parents only for 30-35 days.

Often the male will feed the female as she sits.

Hatchlings are fed by both parents.

As with many predatory animals, owls will lay more or less, depending on the food sources at hand.

Adults tend to remain near their breeding areas year-round while juveniles disperse widely in the autumn.

Territories are maintained by the same pair for as many as 8 consecutive years.

However, these owls are solitary in nature, only staying with their mate during the nesting season.

Average home ranges in various studies have been shown to be approximately 2.5 square kms (1 square mile), but they will extend that range while hunting.

Again, research suggests that young owls remain close to home......... typically within a hundred mile range from their original home or nest.


Turkeys, rabbits, woodchucks, mice, rats, squirrels, skunks (a skunk's worse nightmare), shrews, muskrats, weasels,

pocket gophers, bats, ducks, quail, geese, heron, sparrows, grouse, pheasants, other owls, snakes, beetles, scorpions, frogs, grasshoppers, domestic and feral cats, and even small dogs.

With Great horned owls around here, the little fur kids aren't left outside, even on a leash without supervision.

If you have outdoor cats, Fluffy may come up missing one night.

Owls typically swallow their prey whole (small rodents etc.).

Several hours after eating, the owl’s stomach will form a pellet consisting of the fur, hair, exoskeleton and bones that will be regurgitated.

A long-lived Owl, captive birds have been known to live 29 to 38 years, and wild Owls up to 13 years.

Most mortality is related to man - shootings, traps, road kills and electrocutions.

The only natural enemies are other Great Horned Owls and, occasionally, Northern Goshawks during disputes over nest sites.

Peregrine Falcons have also been observed attacking Great Horned Owls.

Fun and Interesting Facts:

The Great Horned owl is also referred to as a cat owl, hoot owl, big-eared owl and “the tiger of the sky” because of its aggressive nature and ability to capture prey much larger than the owl itself.

A groups of owls are called many things such as "A bazaar of owls", "A glaring of owls", "A parliament of owls", or a "Wisdom of owls."

Owls are considered symbols of wisdom and good luck in some cultures, but in others, they are feared as a sign of impending death and doom.

If a Great Horned owl was the same size as a human, its eyes would be as big as oranges.

The color of these birds varies with the area in which they are found.

Canadian and Pacific Northwest Great Horned owls are very dark, while the birds found in arid regions are usually very sandy in color.

Great Horned owls of the Arctic are practically white. This color trend in coats and plumage is typical in many species.

Great Horned owls occupy a greater variety of habitats than any other North American owl.

From forests, deserts and swamps to prairies, farmland and cityscapes, these owls are happy any where there is open land to hunt and trees to perch upon.

Great Horned owls take life-long mates.

Owl pellets are the undigested fur, feathers, bills, claws, teeth, skulls and bones of their last meals.

The Great Horned owl is the only animals that eat skunks. Yum!

They will also feast on other birds of prey, including owls.

In fact, these owls are the Barn owl's natural enemy.

Young Ospreys and Peregrine Falcons also fall prey to the Great Horned.

Flocks of American crows are known to harass the Great Horned owl, pestering it for hours or until the owl leaves.

The crow's hostility is well-earned as the owl is a major predator to their nestlings and adults.

Other small bird species, such as swallows, are also known for this behavior.

The call of the Great Horned owl is a classic sound of the wild and can be heard from miles away.

The sounds made by the owl vary with its mood and temperament. When calling for its mate, it makes a "who hoo, who hoo" sound.

If aggravated, the owl will "clack" with its beak.

Young owls will "shriek" or scream for attention.

They inhabit nearly every type of terrain in North America from as low as sea level to as high as 11,000 feet.

Humans can squeeze 100-150 psi (pound force per square inch) with their fists; a female Great Horned owl with one talon is 1000 psi.

There aren't many birds or mammals that prey on the Great Horned owl, but it does have its threats.

As with any wild creature, if you are blessed to have them nearby or spot them in the wild, leave them alone and respect these wonderful gifts from our "Creator."

Well, its time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

God Bless.

"We've all been broken at one point. Forgiving ourselves and another person helps us move forward."

Julia Roberts

Boy have I been there.

Unforgiveness is like a cancer that eats away and causes other life and health issues.

"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."

Ephesians 4:32

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb.

A Blessed week to you .

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

Back to Back Issues Page