The powerful, mystical, majestic Great Horned owl is the most widely distributed owl in the Americas. Their range stretches across much of Canada and Alaska, virtually all of the United States and Central and South America, including Colombia, the Guyanas, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, and northern Argentina. Here, we’ll be answering; how long do Great Horned owls live?
Great Horned owls have long lifespans to match their size, power, and stature. Their average lifespan is around 13 years, but many banded birds have lived longer than 20 years. During their first few weeks, mortality rates are high, but Great Horned owls that survive until adulthood have an excellent chance of living a long life.
Studies have found that Great Horned owl survivorship varies regionally. For example, in Saskatchewan, juvenile survival rates can drop from as high as 80% to as low as 20%, depending on food availability in the season.
Elsewhere, Great Horned owl lifespans are more stable. For example, in Ohio, four Great Horned owls were recovered aged 20 years or more. One was found injured on the road and was 28-years-old. It survived in captivity until the age of 34 years and ten months.
Read on to learn about the survival and lifespan of these wonderful owls.
On average, Great Horned Owls live for around thirteen years in the wild
The lifespan of Great Horned owls is likely at least 13-years-old. One individual allegedly reached 50 in captivity, but 34-years and 10-months is probably the most accurate record for the oldest Great Horned owl. This makes them the longest-lived owl in North America.
Great Horned owls live around 13-years in the wild, on average. However, there are many records of these owls living for longer than 20 years.
Great Horned owls have a 50% to 80% chance of dying before they’re 8 to 9 weeks old. Once they’re 1-year-old, their year-on-year survival rate jumps to around 80% or higher. Once a Great Horned owl has reached adulthood and established a territory, it has an excellent chance of living a long life.
This does vary regionally; mortality rates of some 80 to 90% have been recorded in parts of Canada. In warmer climates, the lifespans of these owls may be more stable.
Great Horned Owl in flight looking for prey
The oldest wild Great Horned owl was at least 28-years-old and was found injured on the road in Ohio, near Cincinnati. The owl was rescued and rehabilitated at a rehabilitation center and lived in captivity until the age of 34 years and ten months.
This remains the oldest Great Horned owl on record. However, there are anecdotal reports of captive Great Horned owls living for 50-years.
Firstly, Great Horned owls need to survive in the nest. Around 60% of Great Horned owl nests are successful, meaning some 40% or so of nestlings die before fledging.
Of the birds that fledge, around 50% to 80% die in the post-fledging juvenile period. Young birds are vulnerable to Corvids, Black bears, raccoons, and possums.
Many young birds die from avian flu, septicemia, and West Nile virus. Unfortunately, many Great Horned owls are shot or die from lead toxicity or deliberate or accidental poisoning.
Another common cause of death for adult birds is injury resulting from encounters with other animals, such as porcupines. Parasites are a health hazard, but rarely cause death, except for the blood parasite Leucocytozoon.
Of 125 live Great Horned Owls admitted to an avian rehabilitation center, 39 of them had been shot, 25 were caught in traps, 27 were involved in collisions, and 3 were caught in barbed wire. 31 injuries were undetermined.
Many Great Horned owl fatalities are human-caused or human-exacerbated, and illegal poaching is an issue in some states. Like many other raptors, these owls are vulnerable to lead poisoning caused by accidentally consuming meat laced with bullet fragments.
Great Horned Owl calling whilst flying low in the forest
Great Horned owl life cycles are relatively slow. They reach sexual maturity after around 1.5 to 3-years but very rarely breed before the age of 2.
Female Great Horned owls lay a clutch of 1 to 4 eggs, which are incubated for around 30 to 37 days. The fledging period is particularly slow; the young owls shuffle their way to nearby branches after around 6 weeks, and remain within close proximity of the nest for 2 to 3 months or longer.
The juvenile owls won’t become fully independent from their parents until October or November, some 4 to 5 months after hatching.
Great Horned owls are large and powerful, with a wingspan of around 4.6 feet (1.4 meters). Adults have few natural predators, but eggs and young birds are vulnerable to American black bears, possums, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, and bobcats.
Adult Great Horned owls may become injured or die from encounters with other large animals or predators, such as bears, porcupines, or even eagles. Overall, Great Horned owls do not have predators as such.
A great horned owl perched on a stump
The oldest wild Great Horned owl was at least 28-years and 10-months old, and was found injured on the road in Ohio, near Cincinnati, in 2005.
That same owl was rescued and rehabilitated at a nearby rehabilitation center and lived in captivity until the age of 34 years and ten months.
Some sources indicate that a captive Great Horned owl reached the age of 50, but there is virtually no evidence to back this up.
Great Horned owls hunt every day, often through much of the day and the night. Most hunting trips are undertaken at night, however. Therefore, while Great Horned owls could likely go for days without feeding, it’s certainly preferable for them to feed every day.
When food is particularly abundant, these owls store food items in their nest. For example, one nest in Saskatchewan was stuffed with 15 Pocket gophers, and another with two Snowshoe hares!
Great Horned Owl taking off
Great Horned owls are highly adaptable, hence why they’re distributed across the cold northern regions of Alaska, Saskatkatcha, and Yukon, as well as the subtropical forests of Central and South America. Additionally, these owls don’t migrate and usually remain within close proximity to their natal range.
In the winter, northern Great Horned owls adapt by changing their hunting strategies. Their soft, downy feathers are well-insulated to the cold. They also roost in their nests for shelter. Great Horned owls distributed across northern latitudes are often marginally larger than those down south, and have thicker feathers.
The Great Horned owl is not endangered, and its IUCN conservation status is listed as “Least Concern”.
They’re not specially protected in the USA, but are covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). It is illegal to shoot and kill owls in the USA without a permit, and permits are rarely granted.
Great Horned owl populations are reducing, especially across their northern range. As a result, conservation efforts are underway to support these owls and other raptors in Alaska, Canada, and the northernmost USA states.
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