Owls of Iowa: Great horned owl

There are nine species of owls in Iowa, and the great-horned owl (Bubo virgianus) may be the most well-known species.

great-horned owl

Great-horned owls have the quintessential owl call.

When you think owl, you think "Whoooo. Whoooo." That is actually not the call of every owl but the call of the great-horned owl.

You can't see their ears.

Great-horned owls have feathered tufts on the head that look like they should be ears. Their ears are located at the sides of the head, and great-horned owls have extremely sensitive hearing because of facial feathers that direct sound waves to their ears.

They can fly almost silently.

Great-horned owls are nocturnal and hunt at night. They have excellent night vision, but they also have feathers that help them fly almost silently so their prey does not hear them creeping up on them.

Their short, wide wings also allow them to fly easily among trees in their forested homes.

They can eat prey almost as large as they are.

Great-horned owls eat small items such as rodents, frogs and scorpions, but they can also take down large birds of prey such as osprey, peregrine falcons and other owls.

A great-horned's talons can clench with up to 28 pounds of force, and they help sever the spine of large prey.

Feather colors are different dependent on where the owl lives.

Great-horned owls are typically a gray-brown with reddish faces and a white patch on the throat. However, birds in the Pacific Northwest tend to be darker gray, and those in the Southwest are paler. Birds from the subarctic area of Canada can be almost white to blend into their surroundings.


Birds have hollow bones

In the spring and fall, the vast majority of birds take to the air. In the spring, they head north to their breeding grounds, and in the fall, they head south to overwintering areas that are warmer and have ample food supplies. Migration can be a long and hard journey, and the bigger the bird, Read More »

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Iowa winter birds

Pine siskins, purple finches, dark-eyed juncos, American tree sparrows — these Iowa winter birds are really only just a few of the birds that make winter a bit more fun in this cold state. Red-breasted nuthatch Red-breasted nuthatches live year-round in many parts of the western United States and Canada, but they spent winter, non-breeding Read More »

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Iowa Winter Birds: Pine Siskin

When I started working for the Dickinson County Conservation Board five years ago, I didn’t know much about identifying birds. I could pick out a cardinal, a robin, a goldfinch and a bald eagle. I remember when I was watching the birds in the avian courtyard with a volunteer, and he pointed out a streaky Read More »

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Iowa Winter Birds: Purple finch

Although purple finches have a non-breeding range throughout the eastern half of the U.S., they may be more of an irregular visitor to your feeder. Part of that could be due to competition with its look-alike, the house finch. (Learn how to tell them apart here) The house finch is native to the western U.S. Read More »

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Iowa Winter Birds: American Tree Sparrow

The American tree sparrow’s name is really misleading. European settlers named it the American tree sparrow because the chubby bird with a rust-colored cap and eyeline reminded them of the Eurasian tree sparrow, but Spizelloides arborea isn’t just American. It does spend its nonbreeding winter seasons in the U.S. and southern Canada, but it head Read More »

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Iowa’s Winter Birds: Dark-eyed junco

Snowbirds are people that flee Iowa for warmer weather farther south. By farther south, we usually mean Florida, Texas or Arizona. However, for some residents of the far north, like dark-eyed juncos, Iowa is the warm haven to which they flock. As winter sets in, these pretty little sparrows migrate from their breeding grounds in Read More »

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