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Great Horned Owl

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Is the Great Horned Owl right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Horned Owl, Hoot Owl, Tiger Owl

Scientific name: Bubo virginianus

The basics:
The Great Horned Owl is a huge, powerful nocturnal hunter that can strike in utter silence, taking animals that would daunt most other birds of prey. In fact, its favorite food is said to be skunk. The size of its talons and its demand for a whole food diet mean that this magnificent owl should be considered an expert's bird. This species is quite adaptable and can be found in a surprisingly wide range of climate zones in the Americas, all the way from Canada to Brazil.

Great Horned Owls are provided with significant legal protection in many countries. In the United States, you are unlikely to receive a permit to hold this native owl unless you are a licensed rehabilitator. Wherever you live, it's important to make sure that you understand the law before you accept the owl.

Appearance:
The Great Horned Owl is a large, impressive owl with ear tufts and striking yellow eyes. Females are bigger than males, and Canadian populations tend to be bigger than birds from more temperate climates. The weights quoted here are averages, but you can expect considerable variation.

Weight:
Female: 1,600 grams (3.5 lbs.)
Male: 1,200 grams (2.7 lbs.)

Average size:
55 centimeters (22 inches)

Lifespan:
25 - 50+ years

Behavior / temperament:
A captive-bred imprinted Great Horned Owl is somewhat like a baby who needs attention and never grows up. I once met an imprinted Great Horned Owl who was still food-begging well into his twenties. You really do need to think seriously before getting this long-lived carnivore. They can become a huge responsibility because of their need for lots of attention and special food.

Furthermore, the atmospheric hoot that sounds so eerie from a mile away through a dark forest might not necessarily sound so terrific coming from a flight cage in your living room. This is one of the truly nocturnal owls, and you may not be thrilled to hear its calls up close and personal while you're trying to get some sleep.

Housing:
A rehab Great Horned Owl may not necessarily take up a huge amount of space, because they can be fairly indolent and spend a lot of the day snoozing. However, a falconry or display Owl capable of flight will need to be flown regularly to keep those wings and instincts exercised.

Diet:
A Great Horned Owl has evolved to eat a whole food diet and then cough up bones, feathers, and other indigestible items in small pellets.You can't feed them hamburger and expect their bodies to keep working as designed. You probably won't be willing or able to provide entire skunks, but you'll need to have a steady supply of such items as whole quail, pocket gophers,feeder rats, rabbits, and so on. Of course they also need a source of clean water for drinking and bathing.

Written by Elaine Radford

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