Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Nature Watch: "Great Horned Owl"


Last updated 9/14/2023 at 10:29am

There is something quite comforting about the monotoned hooting of a great horned owl on a dark desert night.

It's a sound you will often hear in November or December, marking the start of courtship for this large, powerful bird.

The great horned owl is a resident of Anza-Borrego and found throughout North America in all habitats except arctic alpine regions in total darkness. It has adapted well to varied landscapes that include open desert, grasslands, chaparral forests, timber and oak woodlands.

With a wingspan of nearly five feet, this raptor makes little sound while silently attacking prey that consists of rabbits, mice, gophers, ducks and small waterfowl.

The great-horned owl is a perch-and-pounce hunter, using acute hearing and good eyesight to locate game from a high point. The bowl-shaped face of this owl helps focus and amplify the soft sounds of moving or feeding animals.

Despite its large size, this owl flies almost silently, thanks to comb-like feathers that are fringed on the back side and that helps mute the sound while they are in flight. Its large wings also allow it to fly slowly as it approaches prey.

The field markings that help identify this owl are the characteristic ear-like tufts on top of its head. Additionally, the great horned owl has a white chin bib, large yellow eyes and an overall grayish brown coloration.

Casual observers might confuse the great horned owl with a long-eared owl, but this is a much smaller and slimmer bird with more distinctive ear tufts that are closer together.

While the great horned owl is a creature of the night, you may spot one sleeping in a tree during the day.

This is also a bird with a long lifespan of 20 to 30 years in the wild. A captive bird lived for 50 years.

Contact Ernie @ or follow

You might be interested in: