English Name: great horned owl
Spanish Name: lechuza, búho cornudo
View all images of Bubo virginianus
This species is present in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's live collection.
Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
Measuring almost 2 feet (61 cm) tall, this is our largest owl. It has a white throat, barred underside, and prominent ear tufts.
This owl occurs throughout the New World, except the extreme north. It is found in every habitat within our region.
• Diet: The Great Horned Owl has an extremely varied diet that includes birds, skunks, snakes, lizards, insects, and even frogs and fish. Lagomorphs (rabbits and hares) and rodents make up the bulk of the diet.
• Behavior: A nocturnal predator with extremely acute sound perception and night vision. The soft feathers are an adaptation to its hunting style of obtaining food. These feathers do not make any sound in flight; therefore, the bird can hear the prey and locate its position, but the prey cannot hear the owl. This owl is an extremely important predator of jackrabbits and cottontails.
The Great Horned Owl begins nesting during January or February, usually in an abandoned hawk nest or on a ledge. The white eggs are usually laid two or three to a clutch. The owls actively defend the nest territory.
The Sonoran Desert at night is a very lively place. Especially in summer, there are probably more creatures abroad at midnight than at noon. Of course, most birds shun this night shift, but several species of owl are notable exceptions.
Owls are superbly equipped to hunt at night. They cannot see in total darkness— no animal can do that — but their eyes are adapted for vision under very low light conditions. Even more impressive is their sense of hearing. Studies have shown that Barn Owls can locate their prey by sound alone, in total darkness, with pinpoint accuracy. Many of the creatures that they hunt also have excellent hearing, but the owls can approach them in silence: the sound of their wingbeats is muffled by the softened edges of the larger wing feathers.
Great Horned Owls are found throughout the Americas and Barn Owls practically throughout the world, so it is no surprise that they can adapt to desert life. Great Horned Owls eat almost anything smaller than themselves from rabbits and skunks to snakes and insects. Barn Owls specialize on rodents and the smaller desert owls also tend to take small prey. The Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, a tropical species that reaches its northern limit here, may hunt most at dawn and dusk, often catching songbirds. The world's smallest owl, the Elf Owl, nests in holes in saguaro cacti and ventures out at night to eat beetles and moths. Nocturnal insects are scarce in cold weather, so most Elf Owls retreat south into Mexico for the winter; other desert owls are present year-round.