Great Horned Owl: Bubo virginianus
The great horned owl is found in a greater variety of habitats than any other owl species. It ranges throughout all of North America from just south of the Arctic tundra down to South America. It can typically be found in forests, woodlands, along streams, in open country, deserts, canyons, cliffs and even city parks.
The great horned owl is the second largest owl in North America, weighing just over four pounds, measuring over two feet long and with a wingspan of three to four feet. It gets its name from tufts of feathers on top of its head that appear to be a set of horns. The function of the feathers is not known, but many believe that they break up the rounded outline of the head thus making the owl more camouflaged.
As with all owls, the great horned owl has exceptional vision. Their eyes are so large they cannot move them within their sockets. To compensate, they have long, flexible necks that provide them with 270 degrees of head rotation so they can scan around. In addition to the size of their eyes, owls have binocular vision that is 100 times more powerful than that of a human’s.
Known for its ferocity, great horned owls feed on a wide array of prey, including small to medium sized mammals such as hares and rabbits. They have also been known to prey on birds, including other owls, and are among the few predators of skunks. Other prey includes minks, squirrels, raccoons, moles, muskrats, bats, turkeys, grouse, ducks, frogs, toads, fish and insects.
Virginia Aquarium Great Horned Owl
One of the Aquarium’s most popular educational animals is Owlex, a great horned owl. After being rescued by a rehabilitator, Owlex came to live at the Aquarium in June of 1998 when he was just six months old. Since that time Owlex has visited schools, attended special events and can often be seen with one of his handlers interacting with Aquarium guests at the Marsh Pavilion. Owlex loves the attention and it is a great opportunity for people to get an up-close look at such an amazing animal.
His handlers utilize enrichment activities and toys to encourage his natural curiosity and hunting behaviors. Owlex’s favorite toy is a small dog rope. He likes to carry it around and also hide it in his nest box. He is extremely vocal and when he wants attention, he lets his handlers know by using his baby whooping sounds.
Like all wildlife, owls can be unintentionally harmed by human activities. While chasing their prey at night they may run into moving vehicles. Sometimes they also fly into stationary structures such as fences or electrical towers. The best thing you can do to help these animals is to keep an eye out for them, especially at night.