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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote® Great Horned Owl Family

Air Date: Week of

You looking at me? (Photo: © Tom Grey)

Great Horned Owls are among the largest and fiercest of owls. And, as Mary McCann reports, unlike many other birds, they need a leg up in raising their young because the owlets take such a long time to grow.



GELLERMAN: Now, there’s a fly-by-night bird that perhaps you should give a hoot about. Mary McCann of BirdNote® has a word to the wise.


MCCANN: We often think of spring as the nesting season for birds. But great horned owls nest in winter, because young owls take a long time to grow up.

A juvenile Great Horned Owl stares out from his/her perch. (Photo: © Tom Grey)


MCCANN: This pair occupies a large stick nest in a tall cottonwood, a nest that red-tailed hawks built last year. The female great horned owl, which outweighs the male by a third…


MCCANN: Incubated her eggs for a full month, never leaving the nest. The male owl…


MCCANN: …hunted for both. When the eggs hatched, the downy owlets were the size of newborn chickens. The male remained the sole provider for another two weeks, until the young put on a second set of down feathers.

Now, the young can be left alone while both adult great horned owls resume hunting at twilight. From elevated perches, they plunge with silent wings onto prey below. They take mice, rabbits, and opossums, ducks and crows, even skunks and young raccoons.

The young owls will remain with their parents for several months. And because the cycle started in winter, the young will have an abundance of prey when they are finally on their own.


It’s a family affair, as these Great Horned Owls nest in a tree. (Photo: © Tom Grey)

MCCANN: I’m Mary McCann.

GELLERMAN: To see some photos of great horned owls, swoop on over to our website LOE dot org.



Sounds of the Great-Horned Owl provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Hoots of the pair (and individual adults) recorded by W.R. Fish. Screech of juvenile recorded by C. Peterson

BirdNote® Great Horned Owl Family was written by Bob Sundstrom.


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