Great Horned Owl

Bubo virginianus

Click to view a larger image. Click to view a larger image. bird bird

Museum specimen featured in the Wild exhibition
Image: Museum Victoria

Greater Horned Owl
Image: Wayne Lynch
Source: photolibrary

Type: bird

Great Horned Owl Greater Horned Owl
Image: Wayne Lynch
Source: photolibrary

Conservation Status

Secure Vulnerable Endangered Extinct  ]

Great Horned Owls are common and widespread across North and South America. Their ability to adapt to a variety of habitats means they can tolerate some human disturbance. The conservation status of this species is secure.



Great Horned Owls are carnivores.

They hunt mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and invertebrates.


Great Horned Owl relative size depiction as described below

Size relative to a sparrow and a cat.

0.9–1.6 kg
43–64 cm
89–152 cm

Amazing Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls are large, fierce birds of prey with large yellow eyes and sharp, curved talons. Their mottled grey-brown plumage provides excellent camouflage against tree bark. There are about ten subspecies of Great Horned Owl, which differ in colour; northern birds tend to have lighter-coloured plumage, but all have characteristic tufts of feathers that look like horns.

At sunrise and sunset, Great Horned Owls perch in trees and listen for prey. The classic face ‘mask’ of these owls amplifies the sounds of small animals. They locate prey with their precise hearing and excellent night vision, then glide down in complete silence to grab prey with their talons. They are excellent hunters of small to medium animals, including skunks, scorpions, other birds, and even porcupines. They tear very large prey into smaller pieces using their talons and curved beaks.

Female Great Horned Owls are larger than the males. Adults live a solitary life except when rearing a brood. Breeding pairs begin courtship in February and call to one another with a deep ‘whooo, whooo’ sound. They nest in hollow trees or abandoned nests of other birds, laying 2–6 eggs. Both parents help raise the hatchlings, which remain in the nest for 9–10 weeks until they can fly. Young Great Horned Owls stay in the family group with their parents until they can live alone.

Did You Know?

Great Horned Owls

  • have feathers with soft edges that allow silent flight
  • can carry prey that weigh as much as themselves
  • have sharp claws for grasping and tearing food


Greater Horned Owl distribution map

Great Horned Owls are found in North America and parts of South America. They live in a wide range of habitats, including woodlands, parks, deserts and rainforests.


Other animals from the Nearctic

Wood DuckAmerican Black BearAmerican BeaverWolverine