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Are Great Horned Owls Endangered? (Threats, Numbers + FAQs)

The Great Horned owl is not an endangered species. They are widespread throughout almost every habitat in North and South America. Although, the owl does tend to avoid areas densely populated by humans.

Considered a species of low conservation concern, Great Horned owl populations are stable throughout their range. In some regions, this species is even increasing in number, proving that it is highly adaptive to changes such as habitat degradation.

The species was at risk in the early 20th century due to hunting. However, protections were afforded to the Great Horned owl, deeming hunting entirely illegal.

Since then, there has been little concern about the owl becoming threatened. We will discuss the resilience of the Great Horned in more detail below. Read on to discover more!

Great Horned Owls are a species of low conservation concern

Great Horned Owls are a species of low conservation concern

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Are any Great Horned Owl populations endangered?

Great Horned owl populations are not endangered. This highly adaptable species has maintained its population levels so well that it has never been a species of concern. In some regions, Great Horned owls are increasing in abundance quickly enough to out-compete threatened species.

What threats do Great Horned Owls have?

The Great Horned owl is remarkable in its ability to adapt, remaining largely unaffected by environmental changes and human impacts - particularly where habitat degradation and nesting disturbance are concerned.

These owls are surprisingly tolerant to such disturbances and adapt quickly to habitat changes as long as nest sites are available. However, this does not mean the bird has always been without threats.

How do humans affect Great Horned Owls?

Humans have, perhaps, the greatest impact on Great Horned owls. Although, less so now than in the early 20th century. Before hunting became outlawed in 1970, Great Horned owls were shot and killed in large numbers. This, of course, was not sustainable; populations were in a noticeable decline.

Once hunting was outlawed, the Great Horned made a big comeback, despite some illegal killing continuing. Today, hunting is no longer a threat to the Great Horned owl, as it is still illegal due to the protections offered under the Migratory Bird Act Treaty.

Humans have other impacts on the species outside of hunting, however. Collisions with vehicles and stationary objects - as well as electrocutions - kill a small percentage of Great Horned owls. These deaths do not appear to have a significant impact on the population, though.

Hunting was a significant factor on the population of Great Horned owls

Hunting was a significant factor on the population of Great Horned owls

What is the biggest threat to Great Horned Owls?

Pesticides, rodenticides, and other contaminants are a threat to the Great Horned owl. Owls generally consume these through prey that has come in contact with the toxics. As of right now, bioaccumulation and dietary exposure do not have a significant impact on Great Horned populations, but it is something to monitor.

The current most common cause of death in the Great Horned owl is not attributed directly to humans. Mortality rates amongst young Great Horned owls from starvation are staggeringly high, especially in years when snowshoe hare populations are low.

Low snowshoe hare populations could be due, at least in part, to an overabundance of Great Horned owls. However, if the owls are ever in significant decline, snowshoe populations would likely be a vital factor in their recovery.


An adult Great Horned owl does not have many predators. Occasionally larger raptors, such as the Red-shouldered Hawk, prey on Great Horned owls, but attacks are rare. This owl species is most vulnerable when it is young.

While in the nest, Owlets are subject to predation by crows, ravens, and raccoons - if a parent is not nearby to ward off the threat. If a young owl falls from the nest, it could potentially fall prey to a fox, coyote, lynx, or bobcat.

Fledglings are also vulnerable to predation by these mammals, especially if they are sick.

Adult Great Horned owls tend not to have many, if any, predators

Adult Great Horned owls tend not to have many, if any, predators

How can we help Great Horned Owls?

Because Great Horned owls are not endangered, there is not much we need to do to help or protect them. They are a remarkably adaptable species, proven by their ability to overcome significant habitat and environmental changes.

As long as the Great Horned has somewhere to nest and plentiful food sources, population numbers should remain stable.

Of course, decreasing the application of pesticides, rodenticides, and other environmental toxins would help ensure this species' longevity and that of many others.

How many Great Horned Owls are left in the wild?

The wild Great Horned owl population is estimated at 5.7 million breeding birds globally. This large number is why the owl is considered a species of low conservation concern.

Great Horned Owl coming in to land, Arizona

Great Horned Owl coming in to land, Arizona

How rare is it to see a Great Horned Owl?

Great Horned owls are a widespread species, but it can be rare to spot one. Infrequent sightings are primarily due to the owl’s nocturnal schedule. They are mainly active at night when most of us are in bed.

The Great Horned is also stealthy - with silent flight and great camouflage, they can be difficult to spot even when they are active in the daytime.

The best way to observe a Great Horned owl is to first listen for its call. If you can hear one well enough to pinpoint its location, you will likely see it fly about the forest if you sit quietly.

What country has the most Great Horned Owls?

Great Horned owls are widespread throughout North and South America but are most common in the United States and Canada. There are an estimated 3.9 million Great Horned owls distributed between these two countries.

What state has the most Great Horned Owls?

Population estimates at the state level are not widely available. However, recent surveys show that the Great Horned owl is most prevalent in Kentucky, Florida, and Louisiana.

Great Horned owl inside of nesting cavity

Great Horned owl inside of nesting cavity

Why are Great Horned Owls important?

Great Horned owls are important predators. They significantly impact the small rodent population.

If the Great Horned were to decline, there would be a noticeable rise in small rodents, which would eventually lead to unhealthy population numbers and increased disease and starvation among small mammals.

Are Great Horned Owls protected?

Great Horned owls are protected under the Migratory Bird Act Treaty (MBTA). The MBTA protects the birds from hunting and other human interference, such as trapping and keeping them as pets.

Is it illegal to kill a Great Horned Owl?

It is illegal to kill a Great Horned Owl. Protection under the MBTA outlaws the hunting and killing of these birds. However, shooting can be authorized if the owl presents a significant threat to human health or to a person’s livelihood, such as killing poultry.

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