Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Watchable Wildlife: Great Horned Owl

Juvenile great horned owl

Now may be a good time to see great horned owls (Bubo virginianus). They are year-round residents, but start sitting in their nests as early as January or February. Great horned owls are large birds (adults can be 18-25 inches in length) and have large ear tufts on their head and large yellow eyes. Their feathers are usually a mix of colors: white, reddish-brown, gray, and black, with a white patch on their throat.

Great horned owls can be found throughout New York state in a variety of habitats, such as forests or fields, near cliffs, and even around suburban or urban areas. They are most active at night, especially dusk and dawn, but sometimes hunt during the day. Listen for their distinctive “hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo” call.

Photo at top: Juvenile great horned owl. Photo by D. Arlene Bonnett. Photo provided by the NYS DEC.

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Information attributed to NYSDEC is taken from press releases and news announcements from New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation.

4 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    I rarely see or hear GHOs. Barred Owls seem to be everywhere near me. I wonder if Barred Owls out-compete the GHOs in this habitat – mostly lowland mixed forest around here on the Adirondack Coast.

    The last GHO I saw was in Plattsburgh of all places. It was just after sunset with a golden/pink sky. He was in the top of a tall snag facing S – beautifully silhouetted in the gloaming. Oh for a good camera…

  2. Robert White says:

    Last week at about 3am I was woken by a noise in my apartment. It was not a steady sound but repeated every few moments. After a bit I realized the sound was very similar to an owls hoot but as if coming from a tin can. Then I realized there must be an owl on top of the chimney or perhaps stuck in the chimney flu. I slipped on my sneakers, grabbed my flashlight to investigate. Sure enough there was a Horned Owl on my chimney. It was not facing the yards where the mice and moles might be, it was facing the cover of the chimney flu. My theory is the owl perched on the chimney to spy the yard for food, hooted, heard it’s own hoot echo back from the chimney flu and kept the conversation going with what it thought was another owl. When I pointed my flashlight at it, it flew a way and for the rest of the night I slept soundly.

    • Boreas says:


      Interesting. For a being that depends on aural location of prey, it must have been pretty confusing. Or perhaps it was just like singing in the shower…

  3. Charlie Stehlin says:

    I like your story and your analysis on that owl Robert, that it was curious about its own sounds………………………Barred owls! I love the ‘hoos’ they put out. The last time I heard one of them fellers, that I recall, was when I was visiting Holmes Cemetery on Chartier Road in Benson, NY five or so years ago. The only owls I hear where I am are screech owls whose lovely low-key rolling notes, and other sounds, come to me now and again in the early hours of the morning when stars, and sometimes the moon, are poised above.

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