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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Great Horned Owl -- Bubo viginianus

RANGE: Breeds from western and central Alaska and central Yukon to Labrador and Newfoundland, south throughout the Americas to Tierra del Fuego. Winters generally throughout the breeding range, with the northernmost populations being partially migratory.

STATUS: Common.

HABITAT: Occurs in a wide variety of forested habitats. Inhabits open coniferous, deciduous, or mixed woodlands, orchards, second-growth forests, marshes, swamps, riverine forests, partially wooded slopes, brushy hillsides, farm woodlots, large city parks, and rocky canyons well away from forest cover. In the South, prefers baldcypress hummocks and expansive dense palmetto woodlands interspersed with scattered pine.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Large abandoned bird nests or large cavities for nesting.

NEST: Uses a wide variety of nest sites up to 70 feet above ground; frequently abandoned nests of hawks, herons, or crows. Also uses large tree cavities, crotches, stumps, caves, and ledges. Occasionally, constructs a nest but most often uses abandoned nests.

FOOD: Prefers open areas near woodlands such as marshes or meadows for hunting. Consumes an extremely varied diet; will attempt to kill animals up to the size of a turkey or porcupine, but prefers small to medium-sized mammals and birds. Also preys upon reptiles, amphibians, large insects, and fishes; rarely consumes carrion.

REFERENCES: DeGraff et al. 1980, Earhart and Johnson 1970, Heintzelman 1979, Johnsgard 1979, Karalus and Eckert 1974, Sprunt 1955.

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