The Great Horned Owls – Masters Of Their Domain

by Larry Jordan on August 17, 2008

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl photo by Frank Kratofil

I feel so fortunate to live where I live, out in the country in rural Northern California. Although you can see this rather large owl species everywhere, it being one of the most widespread and common owls in North America.

These two photos of the Great Horned Owl were taken by my friend Frank Kratofil who is a gifted wildlife photographer in the Redding area. They were taken about 15 miles from my home but by the time I was able to get to the place where Frank had photographed the owls and their chicks, they had fledged and were no longer at the nest site. Here is another shot of the adult and the chicks.

Great Horned Owl with chicks

I had heard Great Horned Owls near my home but had never spotted any while out and about. The main reason being these large predators hunt mainly by night and are usually seen only roosting during the day. And as far as seeing them during the day, they are so well camouflaged, you have to look very closely near the trunks of trees for their silhouette or you would never notice them at all. Click below to hear their traditional call


Several weeks ago I was fortunate enough to come across this master hunter on my morning walk with my Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Mika. I’ll tell you one thing, when a Great Horned Owl crosses your path with its 4 to 5 foot wingspan, you perk right up!

I was scouring the tree tops for the Ash-throated Flycatchers I had been hearing when, out of an oak tree, just a few feet in front of me, no more than five feet off the ground, flew this beautiful Great Horned Owl, without a sound. He flew across the creek into another Black Oak and sat there on a branch, watching me, watch him. I watched him for several minutes, hoping to discover where his roost might be, but he flew off, low through the trees in silence and out of sight.

The Great Horned Owl is one of the best hunters in the avian world. They feed mostly on small to medium size mammals by swooping down on them from a perch near an open area. Although their main prey are rabbit and small rodents they take many other species of prey including other owls, hawks, osprey, herons, geese and other large birds as well as snakes and other reptiles.

The prey is usually killed from the initial attack by the Great Horned Owl’s large talons and taken to a perch. If the animal is small enough the owl will eat it whole, if not it tears the prey apart with its hooked bill. The soft tissues of the prey are digested and several hours later, the hard remains are regurgitated as pellets. These “pellets” are formed in the owl’s gizzard where the bones, feathers and fur are trapped and compressed into a smooth shape for regurgitation.

Owls have several features making them excellent night hunters. Large, forward facing eyes that widen inside the skull, account for large retinas packed with photoreceptors allowing owls to spot prey in near darkness. Their ears are very sensitive and some owl’s ears are positioned asymmetrically to help them pinpoint the source of any sound. Like the Great Horned Owl I saw, most owls fly silently because of the soft, muffling fringes on their flight feathers.

Large size, broad diet and super hunting skills make the Great Horned Owl truly a master of their domain. If you are fortunate enough to see one of these beautiful owls on the wing, enjoy it while you can. They are an awesome spectacle.

Other posts from the blogoshere:

Great Horned Owl and Red Shouldered Hawk by Jim Sullivan – A “cloud” of crows were dive bombing the Red Shouldered Hawk and Great Horned Owl. The Red Shouldered Hawk would perch near the Great Horned Owl and scream. Then take-off… do a couple of loops… a couple of dive runs at the Great …

Carolina Raptor Center ~ Huntersville, NC – Feel the rush as a great horned owl flies inches from your head during Carolina Raptor Center’s free flight program!! Be amazed by raptors in the air and trees during Backyard Tails. Come early to get a space, as seats for this program …

Screech Owl One Night, Great Horned the Next! – About three nights ago I heard a screech owl calling out many times, then the next night I heard a Great Horned Owl whooting in the night, to which I entertained myself for a long while imitating it’s calls and getting responses back …

Thank You for Saving the Great Horned Owl Mister! – Man saves owl snared by trap for gophers by Bob Grawey Staff writer When Tony Schreiber of Otsego woke up Tuesday morning, he never expected to play the role of hero for a great horned owl. But that is exactly what happened …

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Klaus August 18, 2008 at 11:36 am

Congrats to the move and to a better platform!
Cheers, Klaus


admin August 18, 2008 at 3:38 pm

Thanks Klaus,

Lots of work to do and many miles to go.



Birdfreak August 18, 2008 at 6:31 pm

Great post, I love the new look.

Good birding to you!


Gallicissa August 21, 2008 at 9:20 pm

Congrats on your new blog!
This looks great. I have updated my links.

GHO looks a majestic bird. I would love to claim it in my list one day.


Larry August 21, 2008 at 9:40 pm

Birdfreak, thanks for the comment. I’m working on it!

Amila, you will have to come and visit as I will hopefully come to Sri Lanka someday. You can see the GHOW and I can see all your wonderful species of birds there!


animtreebird September 4, 2008 at 2:16 am

Very beautiful birds. Nice photo. :)))

animtreebirds last blog post..


Larry September 4, 2008 at 7:06 am

Hi Animtreebirds,
Thanks for the commment. I applaud your efforts to bring animal welfare and conservation to India. I have never been there but I hope to get there some day to see some of your beautiful birds.


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