Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

Great Horned Owl


  • Our largest eared owl 55 centimetres (22 inches) long.


  • It is readily identified by its large size and prominent "horns" pointed toward the sides of the head.
  • In flight, the ear tufts are held flat against the head.
  • The neck and back are light brown speckled, streaked and barred with black and white.
  • The undersides are light in color and heavily barred, accentuating the white throat.
  • The great horned owl is common throughout Alberta, and is the Provincial Bird.
  • The great horned owl resides all year in forests, open woods and river valleys of all natural regions.
  • The total range includes North and South America with breeding occurring north to the tree line.
Natural History


  • Prey includes:
    • Domestic and game birds
    • Large insects
    • Mice
    • Rabbits

When Active

  • The great horned owl is a year-round resident.
  • Pairs mate for life and share the duties of raising owlets.
  • Hunting begins at dusk, but on dark days the owl may hunt in the afternoon.
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behavior

  • During the breeding season, pairs confine themselves to wooded areas.
  • The great horned owl nests earlier than all other birds in Alberta (with the possible exception of the grey jay).
  • Two to three eggs are laid in late February and early March in old nests built by hawks or crows.
Conservation and Management


The great horned owl is classified as Secure in the current General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:

Current management

  • Like all birds of prey in Alberta, the great horned owl is protected by the provincial Wildlife Act.

Alberta's Provincial Bird

In 1977, the children of Alberta were asked by the provincial government to select a bird to represent the province. As the result of a province-wide vote, they selected the great horned owl as Alberta's Provincial Bird.

The great horned owl symbolizes our concern for the future of wildlife. As our Provincial Bird, the great horned owl should remind all Albertans to manage wildlife wisely.

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Updated: Apr 29, 2010