Great Horned Owl During Day

For over a week the ground has been blanketed in over two feet of snow and temperatures have not risen above freezing. With their food supply compromised, the wildlife in our area (Modoc County CA) is exhibiting unusual behavior. Birds and animals that usually maintain their distance are coming closer to the house than they usually do. Behavior patterns are altered during this time of stress.

Great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) are nocturnal, typically feeding at dawn, dusk and throughout the night. During the day this large owl usually roosts in  quiet inconspicuous places such as large trees, abandoned barns or occasionally amid rocks. Although we hear the great horned owls calling in the trees outside our house throughout the night, they do not roost in our trees during the day.

During this cold spell a great horned owl has appeared during the middle of the day in the cottonwoods next to the house. This owl is not roosting in the tree because it sits there before flying away, only to return again and repetitively repeat the cycle. This behavior is definitely atypical. The only explanation Leonard and I can postulate is that the small mammals comprising the majority of the owl’s usual prey are not venturing out in this bitter weather. The owl is hungry and in desperation is hunting the abundant small birds which are active during the day. We do not know the reason for the owl’s curious actions.

The eyes of a great horned owl, also commonly known as a tiger owl or a hoot owl,  are immobile in their eye sockets, with the result that the owl can only look straight ahead. In order to see in various directions without moving its body the great horned owl can rotate its neck 270°. In one photograph the owl has turned his head toward the rear.

Great horned owls exhibit large variations in plumage and color and are permanent year-long residents throughout most of North America. First seen in the Virginia Colonies and described in the literature in 1788, the species name (virginianus) honors this territory and by extension Queen Elizabeth I of Britain – the Virgin Queen.

The hoar frost on the twigs in the pictures are evidence of our bitter temperatures at mid-day. At least the days are now getting longer!

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8 Responses to Great Horned Owl During Day

  1. Pingback: Great Horned Owl Pair | The Nature Niche

  2. Pingback: More Unexpected Behavior | The Nature Niche

  3. Rockie says:

    I have had a pair roosting in a tree close to my house. I took some pictures of them. I haven’t seen them in a while though.

  4. Mike Powell says:

    Wonderful shots of a bird that I have not yet seen in real life. I often wonder how various creatures survive the winter when food is hard to come by. Your explanation about why the owl is hunting in daylight makes a lot of sense to me.

    • gingkochris says:

      Thanks, Mike! I hope you see a great horned owl some day soon. It amazes me that wildlife is able to survive these bouts of severe weather. As I sit in my warm house I can tell from their behavior that our wildlife is stressed.

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