AKA Great Horned Owl

Horned Owl

By Tom McDonald of Smiling Dog Landscapes

A few weeks ago, my wife walked out the door just as a large predator swooped down and perched on the fence around our pool.  The bird, a Great Horned Owl, allowed himself to be admired then, with a blink of an eye, silently launched itself aloft.

Of the six species of owls in the Sonoran Desert, the Great Horned Owl is the largest. Standing at almost two feet tall with a three and a half foot wingspan, this fearless predator earns its nickname ‘flying tiger’ honestly. Anything smaller than it is prey, including skunks, since this owl has practically no sense of smell. Rabbits and rodents comprise the bulk of its diet; a fact appreciated by pretty much everyone except maybe the rabbits and rodents. Possessing excellent night vision and even better hearing, this monster bird attacks silently thanks to the soft edges of its larger wing feathers that allow it to swoop down on its prey noiselessly and without warning.

Great Horned Owls mate for life and even though the female is the larger of the two, the male has the deeper voice. Their hoo, hoo,hoo  call is distinctive and the pair can often be heard answering one another. Rather than build their own nest, these owls take over an abandoned hawk nest or lay their one to three eggs on a rock ledge. Owls are very territorial, defending their nesting site against all intruders, including humans.

The Great Horned Owl is mottled brown and gray above with fine gray barring on its chest. The tufts of feathers set wide apart on its head coupled with piercing yellow eyes presents a frightening appearance. Add that this owl’s eyelids close from the top down, like human eyes and it gets down right spooky.

Many Native American tribes saw the owl as an omen of doom and its hoot signaled death. The owl was used in ‘boogeyman’ stories to keep children quiet and in bed at night lest the owl carry them away to the spirit land before their time.

The Hopi, however, saw the owl in a more favorable light, as a humorless but wise lawgiver playing the straight man against the antics of their Kashari clowns or kachinas.