Lakeside Nature Center

Critter Corner - Great Horned Owl
(Bubo virginianus)


Soft, velvety feathers allow owls to fly silently.  Special eyes allow them to see clearly, even on pitch black, moonless nights.  Large ear openings, hidden under the feathers give owls the finest hearing of any animal on earth. 


The great horned owl is a ferocious night-time hunter that uses its large feet and sharp claws (talons) to catch and kill its prey, which may be a small as a beetle to as large as a skunk or even a wild turkey.



Great horned owls do not make their own nests, but use nests that were made by other animals such as squirrels, crows and especially red-tailed hawks.  The female owl lays two to five eggs in February.  She plucks the feathers off her stomach so that her warm bare skin covers the eggs and keeps them warm even when the temperature is below freezing.  The eggs hatch in four to five weeks.


The owls are covered with feathers of mixed brown, gray, tan, which and black.  These colors make them difficult to see in trees,  Habitats vary from forests to cities to open desert.  They may nest in trees or caves, and sometimes even on the ground.


Large, strong talons are the first line of defense.  Perhaps the several feathers that stick up like a set of horns (these are NOT ears), and their huge yellow eyes make them appear more threatening.


  • Crows and great horned owls are mortal enemies.  The owls raid the crow's nests, snatching baby crows for food.  The crows attack young owls when they find them n the ground.  When a crow sees an owl, it will fly close to it and start to caw loudly.  Other crows will fly in and join the first crow.  If you hear lots of crows cawing together, see whether you can spot an owl nearby.

  • The great horned owls are often called hoot owls.  During winter nights the male and female owls hoot back and forth to each other.

Check out Lakeside Nature Center's Great Horned Owl.

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(Photo Credits: Chicks from US Department of Fish & Wildlife; All others from  Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife)

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