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The Nature of Things

by Karissa Stokdal

Please introduce yourself.

Hi, I’m Owlbert. I am a Bubo virginianus, more commonly known as the Great Horned Owl. I get my name from the distinct, pointed feathers on top of my head, but they aren’t my only defining feature! I have bright, yellow eyes and a dark, black beak. If I sit up straight, I’m almost two feet tall!

Q: What’s your daily routine?

A: I’m a predatory bird with a diet more diverse than any other North American owl species. My sharp beak and talons allow me to catch and feast on rodents, amphibians, reptiles, fish, smaller birds and even other raptors. I prefer to do the majority of my hunting at night because that’s when prey is most abundant. I can rotate my head more than 180 degrees to look in any direction and have excellent vision for hunting in the dark! I am very elusive and blend well with my surroundings, but sometimes you can catch me sitting in trees at dusk or in the early hours of the morning. Even if you have never seen me, I can guarantee you have heard my distinct call of one long hooooot, followed by three shorter hoots.

Q: What’s your relationship status?

A: Great horned owls are typically monogamous. My nightly hooting warns other owls to stay away from our territory. As a male owl, I put out my call all year long but during the fall, my female counterpart also hoots as a display of courtship. Although many other species of bird are flying south for the winter, our mating season is just getting started! We prefer elevated nesting sites, but rather than build our own we will move into another critter’s abandoned nest. As early as January, my mate will lay her eggs, and by February we could have as many as six chicks.

Q: Where do you live?

A: Great horned owls thrive in a variety of habitats from isolated forests to urban parks. We are native to the Americas and, with about a dozen subspecies, we can be found all over North America as well as a good part of South America. We do, however, vary greatly in coloring depending on our location: dark sooty in the Pacific North West, to paler in the Southwest, to nearly white in sub-Artic Canada. If there are tall trees and prey available, you can bet we’re around somewhere. My own territory is right in the village of Rhinebeck. Keep your ears open for my hooting, I’m closer than you think!

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