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The Owls of North Dakota

Great-Horned Owl
Bubo virginianus

JPG -- Picture of Species

The great horned owl, sometimes called the "cat owl" or "hoot owl," is one of the most widespread and commonly recognized owls. It is large and bulky, reaching a length of 18-25 inches with a wingspan of 3-5 feet. The female is larger than the male.

The great horned owl ranges in color from the usual brown to light gray and is heavily barred crosswise, with a white throat patch and distinct ear tufts or "horns." In flight, the great horned owl is as large as our largest hawks, except it appears reckless and large-headed.

The great horned owl is found throughout North and South America, inhabiting everything from dense forest to open desert and even urban areas. It is a permanent resident throughout much of its breeding range.

The great horned owl usually nests in trees, using the abandoned nest of a hawk, eagle, crow, heron, or occasionally a squirrel, but will also nest in caves, hollow trees, and even on the ground. After the young leave the nest, adults feed them on the ground before they are able to fly and may fiercely defend them against possible threats.

In North Dakota, great horned owls initiate nests as early as February. Birds are easy to locate because nests are large and quite often in small groups of mature trees or tree rows. Nests are visable without leaves to hide them. The owl's head generally extends above the edge of the nest, and the ear tufts are visable.

The great horned owl is primarily nocturnal, but will hunt during the day when food is scarce. It is one of the largest and most powerful owls and will take prey as large as skunks, apparently being indifferent to the odor, and will even attack porcupines. Primary foods include ground squirrels, rabbits, ducks and voles. This owl can sometimes be seen in daylight being pursued, or "mobbed," by strings of noisy birds.

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