Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus)

No, they are not ears. The feather tufts on a great horned owl's head make it easy to identify. Also, great horned owls have yellow eyes. Barred owls, another common Illinois owl, have dark eyes.

Great horned owls are the largest and most fearsome of the owls found in Illinois. They are powerful hunters that will eat almost anything, from insects and birds to squirrels and skunks. Anything it can catch and carry away is fair game.

Because of their adaptability and versatility, great horned owls are quite common.

They are not as vocal as the other common Illinois owl, the barred owl. Great horned owls hoot mostly in the early winter when they are pairing off in preparation for breeding. A low "who, who, whooooooo," can sometimes be heard. Don't confuse it with the "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" hoot of the barred owl.

Great horned owl chicks peer out of their nest near Lake Springfield. Their parents took over an abandoned red-tailed hawk nest located in the wildlife sanctuary. Great horned owls don't make a nest, they take over nests left by other animals.

A few weeks later, branching great horned owl chicks venture out of the nest. People often find branching owls on the ground and assume they are hurt, when in fact, they are not! Birds leave the nest before they are able to fly, but the parents still feed them, whether they are in the nest or on the ground.

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 Quick Facts about great horned owls:

Great horned owls will eat almost anything. Its favorite food may be skunks!


A common, widespread owl.


3-4 feet


Great horned owls in captivity may live to be 30 years old.

Did you know?

Great horned owls pair off to begin mating in early winter. By February, they are already nesting!

Be Careful:

Great horned owls are powerful hunters and will defend their young. Stay well away from nests and branching birds.

Photos by Kanae Hirabayashi (top) and Chris Young.