- Photo: Ned Harris
They have excellent hearing and eyesight and swoop down from a high perch to capture their prey.
Great Horned Owls are large and bulky with an overall length of 22 inches with a wingspan of 44 inches. Their upperside is grayish overall; they have horizontal bars on their belly, a white throat and a tawny-orange face. They have prominent ear tufts which distinguish them from other large owl species. Their song is a rhythmic series of 5 or 6 deep hoots.
Great Horned Owls hunt at dawn, dusk and during the night. They have excellent hearing and eyesight and swoop down from a high perch to capture their prey. Their diet is highly varied and includes rodents, skunks, snakes, birds and frogs. They are known to prey on immature raptors in their nests.
They roost during the day in trees and other secluded spots. The author has observed them roosting in the riparian area adjacent to the dam in lower Sabino. Hawks and owls are natural enemies so the resident Cooper’s Hawks always try to drive away any owls that appear in their territory.
The author’s first sighting of a Great Horned Owl in Sabino occurred when he went to investigate the cause of a Cooper’s Hawk distress call that was heard coming from the riparian area. The resident pair of adult Cooper’s Hawks drove away a Great Horned Owl that was trying to roost in a tree adjacent to the hawk’s nest tree. This occurred in mid-winter, long after the young hawks had successfully fledged from their nest.
Great Horned Owls nest in tall trees, cliff ledges and saguaro arms. They often use old nests of hawks or other large birds.
These owls are year round residents in Sabino Canyon.