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Great horned owl

Griffes de Grand-duc

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Great horned owl

Facts about the Great horned owl

Family: Strigidae
Length: 46 to 63 cm
Wing span: 91 to 152 cm
Weight: Males:  985 to 1,588 g
Females: 1,417 to 2,503 g
Record longevity : 20 years

  • Prominent ear tufts look like horns (hence its name).
  • Hearing is very acute.
  • Eyes are yellow; vision is excellent in daylight and at night.
  • Beak is down-curved.
  • Feet are covered with feathers and armed with curved talons.
  • Plumage is mottled grey and brown with white throat feathers in both sexes.
  • Feather coloration varies depending on the location.

Grand-ducThe Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is a savage and powerful nocturnal raptor whose flight is virtually noiseless.  This large owl is among the most common birds of prey in Canada. The Great horned owl is common throughout North and South America, except in the West Indies.  It occurs in all wooded areas in Québec, but not in any great numbers.   Its call is a series of deep « hoo » notes.

Habitat

The Great horned owl ranges in a variety of habitats, but prefers heavy forests and sparsely wooded areas.  During the breeding season, a pair’s hunting range can vary from 0.7 to 5 km2.

They are savagely aggressive in defence of their territory.  

Nest

The Great horned owl does not build a nest.  It prefers to take over a nest abandoned by the Common crow or by another bird of prey, such as the Red-tailed hawk.  It also nests in treetops or on high ledges.  

Nocturnal hunter

Yeux du grand-ducSwift and silent, the Great horned owl uses the cover of darkness to swoop down and seize its prey in its powerful talons.  Because of its sheer size, excellent night vision and exceptional hearing, it can prey on medium-sized birds and mammals.  Daylight hours are spent digesting and dozing in a tree.  

Diet

The Great horned owl has a varied diet:  ducks, geese, hawks, mice, domestic cats, hares and even skunks whose spray doesn’t seem to bother it.  It swallows smaller prey whole, tears and shreds its larger victims.   The indigestible bones, feathers and fur are regurgitated as pellets. 

Sworn enemies

The Great horned owl has few enemies.  But crows, ravens and even sparrows will give it a hard time.  When a Great horned is spotted in the vicinity, these birds quickly gather in numbers to torment the owl until it leaves.

In the face of danger to themselves and their young, this is the typical threat behaviour these birds use to drive away an enemy. 

SEASON BY SEASON

Spring - Summer

The young birds’ plumage is white like the eggs.  While in the nest, the owlets are very noisy, always screeching for food.  By the time they’re 8 weeks old, they can fly over short distances. 

The young owls are fed by their parents until the end of summer, and don’t leave the nesting range until well into autumn.  They reach sexual maturity at about 2 years of age.  Nearly half of the young birds do not survive their first year. 

Fall - Winter

Grand-ducThe Great horned owl usually winters in its nesting and breeding range.  Towards the end of autumn, it is more savage than usual in defence of its territory.  As winter sets in, a series of hoots, wails and whistles announces the start of the courtship display.   

The eggs are laid long before spring thaw, and hatch after a month’s incubation.  Depending on the amount of prey available, 1 to 6 but more often 2 or 3 eggs are laid.  The male feeds the female while she broods.  The pair stays together for more than one season. 

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Comments
Par Valérie Couture, 2009-05-04, 14h24

Bonjour, J'ai une question, nous avons un grand duc d'amérique qui a pondu ses oeufs dans un arbre derrière chez moi. Il y a une journée, un petit est tombé de très haut du nid. Nous ne lui avons pas touché de la journée car nous pensions que la mère l'aurait rapportée dans le nid. Par contre, le lendemain matin il était encore par terre....et semblait avoir très froid....nous l'avons donc pris pour le mettre dans une couverture au chaud dans un cabanon....par contre, nous ne savons pas quoi lui donner à manger....il ne semble pas très vieux. Nous pensons que lui donner du Steak haché avec une seringue serait une bonne idée.....mais auriez-vous des suggestions pour nous svp!! Merci beaucoup Valérie L'équipe d'Humanima: Bonjour, pour plus d'informations sur les oiseaux de proie blessés et les soins à leur apporter, il est important de s'adresser à des experts, nous vous suggérons de contacter l'Union de réhabilitation des oiseaux de proie du Québec qui sauront vous conseiller: www.uqrop.qc.ca

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