Thursday, March 16, 2017

Great Horned Owl

Our Largest Resident Owl

Great Horned Owl [Internet Photo]
The Great Horned Owl is our largest resident owl.  It is common in most parts of the province.  The Snowy Owl and the Great Gray Owl are larger but they are northern visitors, usually migrating southward in some winters.  The Great Horned Owl is 56 cm (22 in) long compared to the Snowy Owl at 58 cm (23 in) and the Great Gray at 69 cm (27 in).  The Great Horned Owl has a huge wing span of 137 cm (54 in).  

Great Horned Owl [Internet Photo]
This large owl is a fierce predator.  It takes mainly mammals up to the size of snowshoe hares.  It spends its days sleeping in trees and is often seen when mobbed by crows.  

Great Horned Owl
The Great Horned Owl is an early nester.  It prefers stick nests or open tree cavities often taking over nests of Red-tailed Hawks, crows, or Osprey.  In New Brunswick it lays its eggs in early March.  The young can be seen climbing around the branches in 6 to 7 weeks and can fly at 10 weeks of age.  

Great Horned Owl on Nesting Platform in Jemseg 
Great Horned Owl [Internet Photo]
Perched adult Great Horned Owls are easy to identify by their size and their ear tufts.  Their rufous-coloured facial disk, yellow eyes and the white horizontal band under their bill help identify them.  The only similar species is the Long-eared Owl which is much smaller (38 cm - 15 in).  Its ear tufts are much closer together on top of its head and it lacks the horizontal white bar under the bill.  

Great Horned Owl - Juveniles
The Great Horned Owl is the most common owl in North America.  It is found in forested habitats in North, Central and South America ranging from Canada's Arctic to the Straits of Magellan.  It prefers coniferous, deciduous, and mixed woodlands as well areas along cliffs and rocky canyons.  When it finds a mate, it usually becomes a permanent resident.

Here along the Saint John River near Fredericton I hear the 'hoo-hoo-ho-hooo-hoo' starting in January.  Often I hear another owl answering from a distance.  That is likely the local pair hunting and keeping touch with one another.  Occasionally I will see one of the owls especially as they are disturbed from their daytime roost by a group of crows.  The owl then just sits tight or flies to another large tree in its territory.  I have occasionally seen the young as seen in the photo above.  They are curious but cautious.  The adult sometimes makes a blood-curdling scream.  I have heard that and it would certainly stop you in your tracks!

The Great Horned Owl will eat other birds ranging in size from small songbirds to Great Blue Herons and other owls.  Under cold winter conditions it will sometimes thaw frozen food before eating it by thawing it with its own body heat.  In severe winters these owls have been known to prey on small pets.  Pet owners beware!

Our local Great Horned Owls are nesting right now.  Look for their nests along waterways in hardwood tree crotches, stick nests or platforms.  You may be rewarded to see the ear tufts of Mrs. Owl as she sits on her eggs.

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