As the leaves start to change and autumn begins to arrive in North America, one of the most common and haunting woodland sounds is the mating call of the great horned owl.
Photo: Arthur Morris
Though they can be heard as year-round residents throughout North and South America, great horned owls begin calling to potential mates as early as October in North America. The mating call is slightly quicker than the usual “ho-ho-hoo hoo hoo” call heard at other times and is often done as a duet, with the higher-pitched female’s call overlapping that of her mate’s.
Because they are nocturnal, great horned owls are heard much more often than they are seen. They are quite intimidating birds in both size and appearance, with five foot wingspans and large, yellow eyes.
Great horned owls are fearsome hunters that prey on a large variety of animals including rabbits, birds, other owls and even reptiles as large as small alligators! With spectacular binocular vision and superb hearing that can pinpoint the location of sounds, great horned owls are perfectly adapted to hunting at night. Their massive talons have over three times more crushing strength than a human’s hand, allowing them to take prey much larger than themselves.