BIRDS: Great Horned Owl – The Grand Duke

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Christmas is for the Birds!!!Grand Duke by Art MacKay
Grand Duke by Art MacKay

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About the Great Horned Owl.

Like most owls, Great Horned Owls make great use of secrecy and stealth. Due to their natural-colored plumage, they are well camouflaged both while active at night and while roosting during the day. Despite this, they can still sometimes be spotted on their daytime roosts, which are usually in large trees but may occasionally be on rocks. This regularly leads to them being mobbed by other birds, especially American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos). Since owls are, next to Red-tailed Hawks, perhaps the main predator of crows and their young, crows sometimes congregate from considerable distances to mob owls and caw angrily at them for hours on end. When the owls try to fly off to avoid this harassment, they are often followed by the corvids.

Owls have spectacular binocular vision, allowing them to pinpoint prey and see in low light. The eyes of a Great Horned Owl are nearly as large as those of a human being and are immobile within their circular bone sockets. As a result, instead of turning its eyes, an owl must turn its whole head, the neck capable of rotating a full 270 degrees, in order to see in various directions without moving its entire body.

An owl’s hearing is as good as, if not better than, its vision. Owls have better depth perception and better perception of sound elevation (up-down direction) than human beings. This is due to owl ears not being located in the same position on both sides of the head. The right ear is typically set higher in the skull and at a slightly different angle. By tilting or turning its head until the sound is the same in both ears, an owl can pinpoint both the horizontal and vertical direction of the sound’s source. 

Owls also have approximately 300 pounds per square inch (PSI) of crushing power in their talons, a PSI greater than the human hand is capable of exerting. In some cases the gripping power of the Great Horned Owl may be comparable to much larger raptor species such as the Golden Eagle. 

Owls hunt mainly by watching from a snag, pole or other high perch, sometimes completely concealed by the dusky night and/or partially hidden by foliage. From such vantage points, owls dive down to the ground, often with wings folded, to ambush their prey. They also hunt by flying low over openings on the ground, scanning below for prey activity. On occasion owls may actually walk on the ground in pursuit of small prey or, rarely, inside a chicken coop to predate the fowl within. They have even been known to wade into shallow water for aquatic prey, although this has been only rarely reported. Owls can snatch birds and some arboreal mammals directly from tree branches as well. The stiff feathering of their wings allows owls to produce minimal sound in flight while hunting. 

Almost all prey is killed with the owl’s talons, often instantly, though some may be bitten about the face as well.  Prey is swallowed whole when possible. However an owl will also fly with prey to a perch and tear off pieces with its bill. Very large prey, any that is notably heavier than the owl, must be eaten where it is killed for it is too heavy to fly with. In northern regions where such large prey is prevalent, an owl may let uneaten food freeze and then thaw it out later using its own body heat. When prey is swallowed whole, owls regurgitate pellets of bone and other non-digestible bits about 6 to 10 hours later, usually in the same location where the prey was consumed. Great Horned Owl pellets are dark gray or brown in color and very large, 7.6 to 10.2 cm (3.0 to 4.0 in) long and 3.8 cm (1.5 in) thick, and have been known to contain skulls up to 3 cm (1.2 in) wide inside them. (From

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