7 Things You Didn’t Know About Great Horned Owls

In popular culture, owls are portrayed as smart, all-knowing creatures, but how much do you actually know about them? Although they are widespread in North and South America, many individuals never get a chance to see great horned owls (Bubo virginianus). These are seven facts about great horned owls that you may not be aware of.

1. They Don’t Actually Have Horns

The name “great horned owl” is misleading; these birds do not actually have horns. Their head plumes, which resemble horns, are actually comprised of feathers. We refer to these tufts of feathers as plumicorns. Although the exact function of these feather tufts is unknown to scientists, theories include communication with other owls and camouflage.

2. Great Horned Owls Don’t Mind Stinky Food

These owls are not put off by the stench of skunks, even though most animals and people avoid them. Since a mammal’s brain is significantly larger than that of an owl, raptors like these owls do not have a keen sense of smell. The great horned owl is therefore unaffected by the skunk’s foul defense system.

Even though skunks are significantly heavier than birds, these predators really prefer eating them. Skunks are about three times heavier than owls, weighing up to 13 pounds. By contrast, the largest documented great horned owl weighed 5.5 pounds. Fortunately, the owls’ extraordinary power enables them to take down larger prey, therefore skunks are frequently found on the menu of this nocturnal predator.

3. Great Horned Owls Are Stronger Than People

How powerful are these formidable predators? Considering their size, they are far stronger than humans. The grasping strength of a great horned owl can reach 500 pounds per square inch. People can only crush about 65 pounds per square inch, in contrast. The great horned owl requires 28 pounds of power to unlock its clenched talons, indicating that they are not easily released.

The owl swiftly dispatches its victim by using its crushing strength to swoop down and shatter its back before the animal even realizes what hit it. Owls’ extraordinary grasp strength enables them to hold onto their prey securely while in flight. Up to 1.5 times their own body weight in prey can be carried in midair by a great horned owl during flight.

4. They Can’t Turn Their Heads All the Way Around

Owls are unable to fully turn their heads around, despite popular belief. But they can get really close! The head of a great horned owl can rotate 270 degrees in any direction. Their remarkable range of motion is due to the quantity of vertebrae in their necks. Owls have fourteen cervical vertebrae, compared to seven in humans.

5. The Owl’s Wings Are Silent

Even if you’ve certainly heard a great horned owl’s call, you’ve probably never seen one fly overhead. The fringe-like flutings on the edges of owls’ feathers allow wind to silently flow through them. The owl can swoop down over prey without drawing attention to itself thanks to its stealthy flying. The owl’s capacity to hear and triangulate its prey is also improved because it can’t block out other creatures’ sounds with noisy wing flaps.

Given that these owls can only reach a top speed of about 40 miles per hour, this is very crucial. But because they fly soundlessly, they make up for their lack of speed with stealth.

6. They are Lazy About Housing

It’s easier to borrow someone else’s nest than to spend the time building your own. It is well known that great horned owls invade the nests of other animals, such as bald eagles, hawks, squirrels, and crows. Great horned owls have been known to steal nests from migratory birds that have not yet returned for the season because they are early nesters and start laying eggs in mid-February.

7. Rat Poison is Decreasing the Owl’s Numbers

Although the population of great horned owls in North America is believed to be 3.9 million, there has been a fall in recent years. According to data from the land bird conservation group Partners in Flight, great horned owl populations in the US and Canada have dropped by 27% in recent years.

Raticide poses a serious threat to owl populations, in addition to habitat degradation, crashes, and illegal hunting, which are all contributing factors to this reduction. Although owls do not directly ingest this poison, rodents like mice and rats that do are a common source of food for predators. Because of this, the owls also swallow the poison, which can result in severe internal bleeding and a slow, agonizing death. We can safeguard the magnificent predators that inherently assist in controlling these pest populations by minimizing or completely doing away with the use of rodenticides and other poisons.

Overview of Great Horned Owl Facts

1. They don’t actually have horns
2. Great horned owls don’t mind stinky food
3. They are stronger than people
4. Owls can’t turn their heads all the way around
5. The owl’s wings are silent
6. They are lazy about housing
7. Rat poison is decreasing the owl’s numbers