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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.

Photo of a 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.

 

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