Great Horned Owl

A baby great horned owl tests out his wings for the first time. Photo by Dawn Wilson

This week’s featured animal is the great horned owl.

Great horned owls are one of the most widespread owls in the United States. Found in habitat ranging from forests to deserts, prairie to swamps, these birds are very adapted to living in open country or the heart of urban areas. Several pairs spend their lives here in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

1. Great horned owls are one of the largest owls in North America. By body size—averaging up to 25 inches tall—they are the third largest after great gray and snowy owls.

2. Great horned owls do not actually have horns. Rather, they are named for the feather tufts on their head that resemble horns. This is called a “plumicorn, ” derived from the Latin terms pluma for small, soft feather and cornu meaning horn.

Great Horned Owls

After fledging, this great horned owlet perches on the ground as he builds his strength for flying. Photo by Dawn Wilson

3. Great horned owls are the quintessential owl, often represented for owls in movies, and the owl that makes the common and deep “whoo whoo” sound.

4. A great horned owl’s talons are extremely strong, taking up to 28 pounds of force to open when clenched.

5. The eyes of great horned owls do not move in the sockets. Instead, these owls can rotate their heads 180 degrees to look in any direction. This is that cool, smooth swivel feature of the owl’s head you may notice when watching them.

Dawn Wilson is a professional and award-winning nature photographer who lives in Estes Park year-round. You can see more of her work, join one of her Rocky tours and purchase prints at DawnWilsonPhotography.com.

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