Common Name

Scientific Name


Photo by Lynn Chamberlain
Photo Copyright Lynn Chamberlain

The great horned owl, Bubo virginianus, has the widest North American distribution of any owl; it breeds in all of North America in almost any habitat, except arctic and alpine environments. Its range extends south through Central America and also includes most of South America. Small mammals compose the bulk of the great horned owl diet, but this owl will capture and eat almost any animal ranging in size from scorpions and grasshoppers to geese, skunks, and small pets. As expected, this owl hunts primarily at night, but it is also known to be active during full daylight.

Great horned owls are highly territorial, and pairs defend their territories year-round. Pairs may mate for life. Abandoned stick nests of other large birds are generally used, but a lining of fur and feathers of prey, bark, or leaves may be added. Usually two eggs are laid, but clutches with as few as one egg and as many as five eggs are known. Eggs are usually laid in late winter, often in January or February, and are incubated by the female parent for 30 to 37 days. During incubation and for the first few weeks after the owlets hatch, the male brings food to the nest. Young are capable of flight after 45 to 49 days. After fledging, the young may remain with the parents until the next winter.


  • Houston, C. S., D. G. Smith, and C. Rohner. 1998. Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus). Birds of North America 372: 28 pp.

  • Baicich, P. J., and C. J. O. Harrison. 1997. A guide to the nests, eggs, and nestlings of North American Birds, Second Ed. Academic Press, San Diego. 347 pp.