What Does The Great Horned Owl Eat

Last Updated on April 22, 2023 by naime

The great horned owl is a fierce predator that can be found throughout North and South America. As one of the largest species of owls, it has earned its reputation as a formidable hunter with its powerful talons and razor-sharp beak. But what exactly does this bird eat to sustain its impressive size and strength?

To answer this question, we must first understand the hunting behavior of the great horned owl. These birds are opportunistic hunters, meaning that they will prey on whatever food source is available in their environment. Their diet varies depending on factors such as location, season, and prey availability. In general, however, the great horned owl is known for consuming a wide range of mammals, birds, reptiles, and even insects.

Hunting Behavior Of The Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl is a formidable predator, possessing incredibly sharp talons and powerful wings. Its hunting behavior is both stealthy and precise, allowing it to capture prey with ease. This nocturnal hunter has keen eyesight that enables it to see in low light conditions, making it an expert at ambushing unsuspecting prey.

Often referred to as the “tiger owl”, this bird of prey hunts a variety of animals including mammals, birds, reptiles, and even fish. Their diet can consist of anything from rabbits and squirrels to skunks and porcupines. The Great Horned Owl’s ability to hunt such diverse prey makes them one of the most adaptable predators in North America.

This species is known for its efficient hunting techniques which involve waiting patiently on high perches until prey appears. Once spotted, they swoop down quickly and silently to snatch their target with their razor-sharp talons. In addition to their incredible agility in the air, these owls are also skilled climbers who can reach great heights while searching for food.

In summary, the Great Horned Owl’s predatory behavior showcases some truly remarkable traits that make them successful hunters in various environments. From their acute vision and silent flight to their versatile diet and exceptional climbing abilities – these owls are true masters of survival in the wild!

Mammals In The Great Horned Owl’s Diet

Rabbits and hares are a significant part of the great horned owl’s diet; in fact, they make up the majority of its prey. They’re relatively easy to catch due to their terrestrial lifestyle and slow speed. In addition, their fur provides great camouflage for the owl, allowing it to swoop in unnoticed. Therefore, rabbits and hares are an important part of the great horned owl’s diet.


Great horned owls are known for their diverse diet, which includes mammals, birds, reptiles, and even fish. Among the small mammals that they prey on, rabbits make up a significant portion of their diet. These nocturnal predators rely heavily on their keen sense of hearing to locate their prey in dark environments.

Rabbits are highly nutritious for great horned owls due to their high protein content and relatively low fat levels. As an opportunistic predator, the owl can hunt both juveniles and adults depending on availability. They capture these agile animals by swooping down from above or ambushing them from below as they hop around in search of food.

Interestingly, one study found that male great horned owls were more successful at hunting rabbits than females. This could be attributed to differences in size and strength between males and females or variations in hunting techniques employed by each sex. Regardless of gender, these raptors have powerful talons designed to clamp down on fur and flesh with ease.

Overall, rabbits play a crucial role in the diet of great horned owls throughout North America. While there is some variability based on location and other factors such as climate, it’s clear that these charismatic birds can adapt to different habitats and thrive on a variety of prey items including rabbits.


As a wildlife biologist, it is essential to understand the diet of animals in their natural habitat. The great horned owl is known for its diverse diet that consists of mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish. Among these prey items are rabbits and hares which play a significant role in the owl’s survival.

While both rabbits and hares belong to the Leporidae family, they differ in size and physical characteristics. Hares are generally larger than rabbits with longer ears and hind legs. They also have black tips on their fur during winter months as a form of camouflage. Great horned owls have been observed hunting both rabbits and hares depending on availability in their environment.

Despite similarities in appearance between rabbits and hares, one study found that great horned owls were more successful at capturing rabbits than hares due to differences in behavior. Rabbits tend to freeze when approached by predators while hares use their speed to escape danger quickly. This makes them harder targets for the slow-flying great horned owls who rely on surprise attacks from above or below.

In conclusion, while both rabbits and hares are part of the great horned owl’s diet throughout North America, there are variations in success rates based on location and individual behaviors of each species. These nocturnal predators adapt well to different habitats and can thrive on a variety of prey items including small mammals like rabbits and hares.

Birds As A Food Source For Great Horned Owls

Having discussed the great horned owl’s diet in relation to mammals, let us now turn our attention towards their consumption of birds. The great horned owl is an opportunistic hunter and will prey on a wide variety of bird species depending on its geographical location and availability.

One of the most common bird species consumed by the great horned owl is the American crow. These crows are often found near human settlements and provide easy access to food for these owls. Additionally, other corvids such as magpies and jays also feature prominently in their diet.

The great horned owl has also been observed hunting raptors such as hawks and falcons. While this may seem surprising given their size difference, it is important to note that these owls possess powerful talons capable of inflicting fatal injuries upon their prey. In addition, they have been known to steal nests from these birds, consuming both eggs and nestlings.

Finally, smaller bird species such as sparrows, finches, and robins make up a significant portion of the great horned owl’s diet during certain times of the year when larger prey may be scarce. It is interesting to note that while some studies suggest that males prefer larger prey items than females do, there is overall no significant difference in dietary preferences between genders.

  • Sub-list 1:
  • Despite being primarily nocturnal hunters, great horned owls have been known to feed during daylight hours if necessary.
  • Owls regurgitate pellets containing indigestible parts of their prey such as fur or feathers.
  • Sub-list 2:
  • Great horned owls can store excess food in caches located within their territory.
  • Their eyesight is incredibly sharp allowing them to locate prey even in low light conditions.
See also  Great Horned Owl Feather Identification

In conclusion, it is evident that despite being named after its large ear tufts rather than its horns (which are in fact feathers), the great horned owl is a formidable predator capable of consuming a wide range of prey items including mammals and birds. Its adaptability to different environments and willingness to hunt both day and night make it one of North America’s most successful bird hunters.

Reptiles And Amphibians Preyed Upon By Great Horned Owls

Snakes are often a primary source of food for the great horned owl, and they will regularly hunt and consume garter snakes, anoles and other small varieties. Lizards are also a staple of the great horned owl’s diet, especially geckos, skinks and iguanas. Frogs and toads are also frequently preyed upon, with bullfrogs, chorus frogs and glass frogs being particularly favored. Salamanders and newts make up a smaller portion of the great horned owl’s diet, but they are still eaten. Finally, the great horned owl will also hunt and consume turtles, though it is not as common as some of the other reptiles and amphibians.


When it comes to the great horned owl’s diet, snakes are often on the menu. These nocturnal predators have a voracious appetite and will eat almost anything they can catch. Snakes make up a significant portion of their diet, and they prey upon both venomous and non-venomous species.

Great horned owls prefer to hunt at night when most snakes are active. They use their excellent vision and hearing to locate their prey before swooping down silently from above. Once caught in their talons, the snake is killed quickly with powerful bites to the head or neck.

While some people may fear encountering venomous snakes like rattlesnakes or copperheads in the wild, these species pose no threat to great horned owls. In fact, many experts believe that these birds have developed an immunity to snake venom over time due to frequent exposure through hunting.

In conclusion, foraging for prey is essential for survival among all animals including great horned owls which feed on numerous reptiles and amphibians such as frogs, lizards, turtles but mainly include snakes in their daily diet. Their ability to adapt has made them one of the top predator bird species across much of North America.


Moving on to another group of reptiles that great horned owls prey upon, lizards are also a significant part of their diet. These birds have been known to hunt and consume various species of lizards such as skinks, geckos, anoles, and even larger ones like iguanas.

Great horned owls use their keen eyesight and powerful talons to locate and capture lizards. They typically hunt at night when these cold-blooded creatures are resting or seeking refuge from predators. Once spotted, the owl silently swoops down onto its unsuspecting prey with incredible speed and agility.

Interestingly, some species of lizards possess defense mechanisms such as biting or shedding their tails in order to escape danger. However, this does not deter great horned owls who have learned how to overcome these obstacles through years of evolution.

In addition to snakes and lizards, great horned owls also feed on other types of reptiles and amphibians including frogs and turtles. Their diverse diet allows them to thrive in a variety of habitats across North America ranging from dense forests to open grasslands.


Moving on from lizards, let’s take a closer look at another group of animals that great horned owls prey upon – amphibians. These birds are known to feed on various species of frogs and turtles as well.

Great horned owls use their sharp eyesight and silent flight to locate and capture frogs, which can be quite challenging given the agility of these amphibians. They typically hunt for them in wetlands or near bodies of water where they congregate. Once spotted, the owl swoops down with lightning speed to snatch its prey.

Interestingly, some species of frogs possess toxic skin secretions as a defense mechanism against predators. However, this does not seem to deter great horned owls who have evolved ways to overcome such obstacles. In fact, some studies suggest that certain populations of great horned owls may even develop immunity to these toxins over time.

Turtles are also part of the diet of great horned owls although they are not as commonly consumed as other types of reptiles or amphibians. The birds typically target smaller turtle species like painted turtles or sliders which they can swallow whole without much difficulty.

Overall, it is clear that great horned owls have adapted remarkably well to feeding on a diverse range of prey including reptiles and amphibians like snakes, lizards, frogs, and turtles. This flexibility allows them to thrive in a variety of habitats across North America where these animals are found in abundance.

Insects And Other Prey Consumed By Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls are formidable predators that can eat a wide variety of prey. While they primarily hunt mammals like rabbits, hares, and rodents, these owls also consume many other types of animals.

Insects make up a significant portion of the Great Horned Owl’s diet. These birds will eat beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and spiders when they are available. Insect consumption is especially important during breeding season since it provides an additional source of protein for both adults and young owlets.

Reptiles such as snakes and lizards are also on the menu for Great Horned Owls. They have been known to take down larger species like rattlesnakes with their powerful talons and beaks. Amphibians like frogs and toads are also consumed by these skilled hunters.

Lastly, Great Horned Owls will occasionally feed on smaller bird species or fish if there are no other food sources available. However, this is less common compared to their more preferred prey items such as small mammals and insects.

Overall, Great Horned Owls have a diverse diet consisting of various animal species ranging from insects to reptiles. This adaptability in what they consume allows them to survive in different environments across North America without difficulty.

See also  Great Horned Owl Flying

Factors Affecting The Great Horned Owl’s Diet

Insects and other small prey make up a significant portion of the great horned owl’s diet. However, these birds are opportunistic predators that will eat just about anything they can catch, including mammals like rabbits, hares, squirrels, and rats.

One of the main factors influencing what great horned owls eat is their habitat. These birds are found throughout North America and can thrive in various types of environments, from forests to deserts. In areas with abundant prey populations, such as near farmland or urban parks, great horned owls may feed on rodents and other small mammals more frequently than in less populated areas.

Another important factor affecting the great horned owl’s diet is seasonal availability of food. During the winter months when many small animals go into hibernation or migrate southward for warmer climates, great horned owls may rely more heavily on larger prey like deer or even other birds.

Additionally, competition with other predators can also impact what the great horned owl eats. For example, if there are already plenty of foxes or coyotes in an area preying on smaller animals, then the owls might shift their focus towards larger prey to avoid competing for resources.

  • Great Horned Owls have been known to hunt skunks despite their potent odor.
  • These birds have been observed eating porcupines by flipping them over and attacking their vulnerable underside.
  • The largest prey ever recorded being taken down by a Great Horned Owl was a fully grown Snowshoe Hare weighing 3 pounds.
  • Although not common due to its size range — Great Horned Owls occasionally take down adult raccoons.
  • Their powerful talons allow them to kill quickly – but this hunting method makes it difficult for them to capture fast moving creatures like ducks or songbirds mid-flight.

Understanding all these factors helps us comprehend how adaptable these hunters truly are. As generalist predators with a wide range of prey and habitats, the great horned owl is a remarkable species with an important role to play in maintaining healthy ecosystems.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Eggs Does A Great Horned Owl Lay?

The great horned owl is a fascinating bird that lays its eggs during the winter months. Typically, they lay between one and four eggs per clutch, depending on factors such as food availability and habitat conditions. These eggs are incubated by the female for around 30-35 days until hatching occurs. The male will assist in providing food for the mother and chicks during this time. Once the chicks hatch, they are dependent on their parents for several months before leaving the nest to establish their own territories. Overall, understanding the breeding habits of this magnificent species helps us understand more about their ecology and how we can better protect them in our natural environments.

What Is The Lifespan Of A Great Horned Owl?

The great horned owl, also known as the hoot owl, is one of nature’s most formidable predators. With piercing yellow eyes and sharp talons, this majestic bird can hunt prey nearly its own size. But what about their lifespan? These creatures are long-lived, with an average lifespan of 10-15 years in the wild. However, some individuals have been recorded to live up to 30 years in captivity. Their longevity is attributed to their exceptional hunting skills and ability to adapt to various environments.

How Fast Can A Great Horned Owl Fly?

As a wildlife biologist, it is fascinating to study the capabilities of the great horned owl. One particular aspect that has caught my attention is their impressive flying speed. These majestic birds can fly up to speeds of 40 miles per hour, making them one of the fastest nocturnal predators in North America. Despite being such powerful fliers, they are also known for their silent flight, allowing them to sneak up on prey undetected. Understanding these unique traits helps shed light on how the great horned owl operates and thrives in its natural habitat.

Are Great Horned Owls Endangered?

Great horned owls are one of the most widespread and adaptable birds in North America. These magnificent creatures can fly at a top speed of 40 miles per hour, making them effective hunters. However, despite their impressive abilities, great horned owls face many challenges in the wild. While they are not currently considered endangered, habitat loss and fragmentation pose significant threats to their survival. As such, it is important that we continue to monitor these amazing animals to ensure their populations remain stable for generations to come.

What Is The Nesting Behavior Of Great Horned Owls?

As a wildlife biologist, it is fascinating to observe the nesting behavior of great horned owls. These majestic creatures are known for their remarkable parenting skills and fierce protection of their young. Symbolically speaking, these birds represent strength and resilience in nature’s ecosystem. Great horned owls typically mate for life and will return to the same nest year after year. They prefer to inhabit abandoned nests made by other large birds or build their own using branches, sticks, and feathers from prey they have captured. Interestingly enough, great horned owl parents do not construct a traditional nest with a bowl-shaped depression but instead create a platform-like structure that allows them to easily move around and tend to their chicks’ needs. It is truly inspiring to witness the dedication and effort these birds put into raising their offspring.


As a wildlife biologist, studying the great horned owl’s eating habits is crucial in understanding its role in the ecosystem. These owls are opportunistic hunters and will consume prey ranging from insects to mammals such as rabbits and squirrels. They have even been known to hunt other birds of prey, including smaller owls.

A case study conducted by researchers at Cornell University found that great horned owls were preying on an invasive species of bird called the European starling. This was beneficial for local populations of native cavity-nesting birds, which were previously outcompeted by the aggressive starlings. The presence of great horned owls helped control this invasive species and allowed for more diversity in the bird community.

Overall, the great horned owl plays an important role in maintaining balance within its ecosystem through its diverse diet and predatory behavior. As scientists continue to study these fascinating creatures, we can gain a deeper understanding of their impact on our environment.

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