Great-horned Owls

April 19, 2010

Part-one of a two-part series

Text and photos by Marcia Warwick

Great-horned owls occur throughout North America as well as Central and South America.  They are one of the most widespread species of owls, residing year round in their territories, with the exception of the ones farthest north, who will move southward in fall and winter.

These owls have feathery tufts, which are sometimes mistaken for ears. They can be found in woods, coniferous mountain forests, desert canyons and riparian habitats, marshes, city parks.  Here, at the Tanque Verde Ranch, we have two pair that reside in separate riparian habitats that are within a comfortable distance to take our guests on nature and/or bird walks to listen to them calling, find them and view them.

they are calling to each other, their calls are great for identifying male from female.  The female’s call is slightly higher than the male’s. During mating season, which is January or February through April, their calls are almost constant. If they are in close proximity, you can ID the male and female by size. The female is larger than the male. She weighs approximate 4  1/2  pounds to his 3 – 3 1/2 pounds. They mate for life.

Great-horned owls roost (perch) during the daytime. They are nocturnal, becoming active hunters at night. They have incredibly sensitive hearing. These owls have feathery tufts, which are sometimes mistaken for ears. Their ears, which are on each side of their head, are asymmetrical, i.e., the right ear is slightly facing up and higher than the left, which is lower and slightly facing down. This is truly “surround sound”.  Also, the facial discs around their eyes aid in hearing directing sound to their ears. By moving or tilting their heads until the sound is of equal volume in each ear, the owl can pinpoint the distance and direction of the sound.

Their eyesight is amazing. They can see at night as well as we can see during an overcast day. Contrary to popular belief, owls cannot turn their heads completely around. Their eyes are fixed; they cannot move their eyes up, down, or side to side. The owl has to move its whole head. They can rotate their head 260 degrees.

More to come… Watch for info about Great-horned owls Hunting, Breeding and Nesting, with photos of baby owls nesting in one of the Tanque Verde Ranch’s Riparian habitats. So cute!

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