By Dianne Taggart


The Great Horned Owl is Long Island’s largest resident owl. Being able to adapt to almost any environment, they are found all across North America and worldwide; grasslands, forests, parklands, mountains. Because of this adaptability their populations are stable and may actually be a danger to some endangered birds (this owl will prey on both young and adult Peregrine Falcons). About 60% of the time the Great Horned Owl is known to behead it’s victim before carrying it to the nest or roosting spot. They prey on anything from small rodents to larger birds and mammals (they will take a bird as large as the Great Blue Heron as well as other owls and raptors) and they will also eat carrion. They are the only animal that routinely eats skunk. They will also fish, wading into the water and grabbing the fish with their talons. And, if hunting has been good, they will freeze extra food and warm it up with their bodies when needed. (The original frozen “TV Dinner”. ) They are mostly a nocturnal hunter, but not always. And they can fly up to 40mph! They have short but broad wings which makes them well suited to low-speed and maneuverability when hunting. When their talons are clenched it takes a force of 28 pounds to open them; their prey doesn’t stand a chance once caught. It is estimated that a family (2 adults & 2 young) need to take a minimum of 6 voles to 12 mice every night to satisfy their dietary requirements. They are a resident of LI and do not migrate.

This owl is 18-25 inches tall with a wingspan of 48-52 inches. They are dark brown or gray/brown with distinctive tufts at top of head. (These tufts are not their ears.) Their throat and upper breast are white, sometimes with dark spots. Males and females look alike with the female being larger. They are possibly the longest living owl with 28 years in captivity, about 15 years in the wild. They are your typical “hoot” owl and the sound can carry quite a long distance.

The Great Horned Owl nests on LI and is one of the earliest nesters; courtship begins in November & December. They don’t build nests but will use abandoned hawk or squirrel nests.

The young have usually hatched by end of January but will stay near the nest for another 4 weeks or so until they can fly. (If you find a nest it is fun to watch the owlets hop around on the tree, sometimes actually falling to the ground and then climbing back up.) The young stay close to the parents all summer as they learn to hunt.

Great Horned Owls are the main predators of crows and their young. That is why you will often see crows mobbing the owl and chasing it out of their territory. Usually the owl just flies away, but they can also respond to intruders with bill-clapping, hisses & screams. If that doesn’t do the trick they will spread their wings and strike out with their feet. Usually, a Great Horned Owl will have a favorite roosting spot not far from the nest. When they roost they sit as tall as they can and remain as still as they can; this allows them to blend with the tree and be hard to spot.

A group of owls has many AKAs; bazaar, glaring, stooping, wisdom, with parliament being the most common.

Brain Carr

Christopher Carl

Grace Scalzo

Grace Scalzo

Jeanne Eggers

More Photos on pages 2,3,4 and 5