The great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is one of the most common owl species. It is widespread throughout North America, including the continental United States, Alaska, and Canada. Their range also extends into Mexico and Central and South America.
As you can imagine, great horned owls are well-adapted to a myriad of habitats. They reside in forests, grasslands, deserts, wetlands, and even cities. Any semi-open habitat between the Arctic tundra and the tropical lowlands of South America is fair game for these birds.
Though common, great horned owls are also elusive. You are far more likely to hear one than see one. Knowing when and where to look will improve your chances of spotting one of these birds in the wild. Read on to discover more about the great horned owl's habitat!
Great horned owls live across a wide range of habitats
Great horned owls live in many different habitats throughout North and South America. Forests, clearings, and desert canyons are all places this owl may call home. Generally, they prefer a mix of open space and secondary-growth woodlands. Such habitats can include temperate forests, wetlands, swamps, pastures, and agricultural areas. They also have territories in cities and backyards.
The great horned owl is less common in dense, old-growth forests. They prefer semi-open habitats for nesting and hunting - typically nesting in trees or tree cavities. Snags, cliffs, ledges, and deserted buildings are also suitable nesting habitats.
Great horned owl perched on a branch
The great horned owl is common throughout the continental United States and Alaska. They are widespread, occurring in mountain, forest, and desert regions. It is possible to see (or hear) these owls just about anywhere. However, their populations are less dense in the Appalachian mountain range, the sub-alpine forests of the Rockies, and in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts.
Great horned owls are most common in North America. They range widely across the plethora of habitats in this region, including forests, deserts, wetlands, swamps, grasslands, and cities.
These owls are also common in South America, occurring around Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Chile, and Patagonia.
Great Horned Owl gliding through the air during snowfall in the winter
Great horned owls do not live in Hawaii. They are not native to this region and would likely require introduction by people to reach this remote area. However, they do occur in all continental US states and Alaska.
The great horned owl is one of the most common owls in North America. They reside in nearly every region. However, these owls can be elusive. You are far more likely to hear a great horned owl’s low hooting before you see it. Even then, pinpointing the bird's exact location can be difficult.
The best time to see a great horned owl is at dusk, near a semi-open area where it might hunt. These birds usually perch in a tree where they sing their low whoo-whoo vocalization before hunting begins. Sometimes this singing will last more than an hour.
Close up side profile of a great horned owl
Great horned owls have relatively large territories that usually include 25-5 square miles. Once they find a mate, these owls rarely leave their range.
Typically, the only time an adult great horned owl will leave its territory is in winter when food is scarce. On the other hand, juveniles leave their parents in the autumn, flying more than 150 miles to establish their own territory.
Great horned owls generally stay in their territories year-round. They are equipped to handle the long, cold winters of the northern United States and Canada as long as they have enough to eat.
In these regions, the snowshoe hare is the owl's main food source throughout the cold season. Great horned owls will leave their territories when snowshoe hares are scarce.
Great Horned Owl landing on the snow
Great horned owls are nocturnal - they typically hunt at dusk, dawn, and throughout the night. During the day, these owls roost in quiet, relatively dark places, including tree cavities, cliff ledges, and abandoned buildings.
The great horned owl typically hunts at night. They will find an obscured perch on a tree limb, cliff edge, high telephone pole, or fence post where they can watch and listen for prey.
Occasionally, owls will hunt during the day. Day hunting usually occurs in winter when food sources are less active on cold nights.
Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), also known as the tiger owl. It is an extremely adaptable bird with a vast range and is the most widely distributed true owl in the Americas
Great horned owls do not have regular migrations. Generally, they are permanent residents within their territories. Occasionally, owls in colder regions will fly farther south in fall and winter when food sources are harder to come by.
Great horned owls solitary creatures. They only stay with their mate during the breeding season and are rarely (if ever) seen in a group.
A great horned owl perched on a stump
Great horned owls do live in the desert. They are common throughout the desert southwest and much of Mexico.
Great horned owls are distributed widely throughout Canada. They are commonly found anywhere with open woodlands or near agricultural areas. These owls generally do not range above Canada’s northern boreal forests.
Great horned owls are found almost anywhere throughout Michigan. They prefer open, second-growth forests near crop fields and pastures.
Great Horned Owl perched high up in a tree
Great horned owls do live in Florida. They reside throughout many habitats, including open woodlands, swamps, and wetlands.
The great horned owl does live in Texas. It is common throughout all habitats across the state, from wooded areas to desert and grasslands.
Great horned owls are plentiful throughout most of Arizona. Populations are less dense in the Sonoran desert.
The great horned owl is common throughout California, in the open forests of the north and the desert and grasslands habitats of the south. Populations are less dense within the Mojave desert.
Great horned owls do live in Minnesota. They are most common throughout the open woodlands and near agricultural areas.
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