Great Horned Owl

Bubo virginianus
A Great Horned Owl specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A large (18-25 inches) owl, the Great Horned Owl is most easily identified by its brown body, flat disk-shaped face with large yellow eyes, and large brown “ear” tufts. This species may be distinguished from the similarly-sized Barred Owl (Strix varia) by that species’ lack of ear tufts and brown eyes. Male and female Great Horned Owls are similar to one another at all seasons. The Great Horned Owl is the most widely distributed owl species in the Americas. This species occurs from Alaska and northern Canada south to Central America, and South American populations occur from Venezuela south to southern Argentina and Chile. All populations of Barred Owl are non-migratory. Great Horned Owls may be found in a number of woodland habitat types across this species’ wide range, from cold evergreen woodland in the far north and south to humid tropical forest near the equator. Within these habitats, Great Horned Owls prefer open areas along woodland edges, frequently venturing outside the forest into nearby fields and meadows to hunt. Great Horned Owls eat small animals, including rodents, rabbits and hares, and small to medium-sized birds. Great Horned Owls use their excellent hearing to locate prey on the ground in order to fly down and capture it with its talons. Also, like most owls, this species hunts primarily at night, making it difficult to observe. Great Horned Owls are most visible roosting high in trees during the day, and may best be located while producing this species’ characteristic hooting calls between dawn and dusk.

DC Information

An uncommon permanent resident, confined to the more heavily wooded areas and adjacent agricultural areas. Breeds from late January to late April. Female is larger than male.

Specimen Information

This entry is for the adult pictured above.
Date:  9/29/1928
Collected By:  Carl Rohwer
Locality:  East Falls Church, VA
Sex:  Male
Catalog ID:  310636
On the floor of the case is a large young owl, not pictured here and not labeled.  This is also a Great Horned Owl.
Date: Before 5/24/1912
Collected By: Edward S Schmid
Locality: Maryland, just outside of DC
Sex: Immature, possibly a female
Catalog ID: 233801

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Bubo virginianus

Sound from xeno-canto. XC70493 Bubo magellanicus (Lesser Horned Owl)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC70494 Bubo magellanicus (Lesser Horned Owl)