Nature Notes: Great horned owl

Great horned owls are easily recognized by their hooting call which has also caused them to be called “hoot owls.”

Great horned owls are year-round residents of Frederick County. Their feathered tufts give them a distinctive look. This large bird is often depicted in cartoons with horizontal ear tufts and eye glasses as the “wise old owl.”

Great horned owls are widely distributed, and are easily recognized by their hooting call, which has also caused them to be called “hoot owls.” They are widely distributed in the county, and they can often be heard locally. If you live in a suburban, reasonably quiet location, you can hear them calling back and forth in many evenings or early mornings.

Great horned owls are up to 2 feet tall and have up to 5-foot wingspans. Their coloration is a mottled gray-brown, with a reddish tint on their face. Typical of all owls, they have huge eyes and excellent night vision. The feathers, also like other owls, are adapted for silent flight. They can use differential hearing to locate prey in the darkest nights. They are adaptable to a wide variety of habitat, including evergreen and deciduous forests.

Generally nocturnal hunters, upon occasion, they will be seen seeking prey in the daytime. Occasionally during the daytime, a mob of crows will be seen attacking owls, which are their mortal enemies. Great horned owls prey on mammals such as rabbits and groundhogs, among others. They also prey on birds such as crows and ducks. They are also capable of killing large birds of prey such as hawks, ospreys and other owls.

Much has been written and available about the great horned owl, and a number of online sources of recordings of their calls are available.

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