Great Horned Owl

So while I may have only one decent picture of a great horned owl–it is one of the pictures I’m most proud of taking during 2020.

I was doing a afternoon walk at Boomer Lake in January (weather was nice, and it was before the pandemic really hit), and I stopped at one of my normal spots to see if I could spot any cormorants or buffleheads on the west side of the little island in Boomer Lake.

When I looked at the trees off to my right, I noticed something sitting on one of the branches. I snapped a couple of pictures and theorized that it was either a large hawk (maybe an immature eagle) or possibly a dead branch hanging down (I didn’t have my super long lens on the camera and didn’t feel like trying to weed my way into the trees for a closer look), and continued on my walk.

Great horned owl roosting at Boomer Lake

Once I got the pictures on the computer and could zoom in–I realized that I managed to get a couple of pictures of a great horned owl roosting during the day. Now whenever I’m on a walk and I get to that particular area of the park, I stop and try to look a little more closely at the trees to see if I can possibly spot another owl roosting during the day.

Great horned owls are slightly larger than a red-tailed hawk when perched. They have thick bodies with a rounded head. Their ‘horns’ are two prominent feathered tufts at the side of their ears.

Since they’re found throughout North America, their color tone can vary from region to region. Though overall they have a mottled-gray brown back, with a reddish brown face, and a distinctive white patch at the throat.

More crisp picture of a great horned owl roosting at Boomer Lake

They’re a cosmopolitan bird that can be found in forests, cities, suburbs, parks to other habitats that include the tropical rainforests of the northwest, swamps, deserts and even as far north as the edge of the Arctic tundra.

Range map of the great horned owl. Map (c) birds of the world

While these birds are nocturnal, one may be able to spot them at dusk sitting on a tree branch at the edge of a field, on a fence post, or even flying from one area to another. If spotted during the day–they’re either roosting on tree branches, or possibly even hunting (which they sometimes do during the winter).

Since great horned owls are found throughout North America–they have a diet as varied as their geographical range. Unlike most other owls, great horned owls do prey on other birds. Their diet is varied and ranges from scorpions and insects to rodents (such as voles, moles, rats, shrews, and mice) to larger mammals such as rabbits, gophers, and squirrels to other birds.

In terms of the birds that they may prey on–that list can include ducks, loons, grebes, rails, and even smaller raptors. They have also been known to prey on the hatchlings and nestlings of other raptors as well.

One interesting little tidbit: Crows will occasionally team up with hawks to chase great horned owls out of their combined territories, and/or also lure them away from their nests so the hawks can ‘steal’ the owl hatchlings/nestlings to feed to their nestlings.

My photography goals for this bird are simple: get another picture of a roosting great horned owl, and also try to get a picture of some young great horned owls near a nest.