7 Facts about the Great Horned Owl (well, one is still up for debate)

Last week, we were delighted to see our first Great Horned Owl (GHO) in Central Park. Great Horned Owls, also known as Tiger Owls and Hoot Owls, are the most adaptable and pervasive owl in the Americas.  We picked the top 7 facts that spoke (er, hooted?) to us most.

1. They are Master Hunters.


Of all animals, Great Horned Owls are among the most efficient hunters. They hunt at night using their specially adapted vision and hearing to locate prey quickly.  They are silent in flight and they attack with stealth and strength, often killing their prey instantly.  They have a kill rate of 85%.

2. Their eyes are enormous.


Great Horned Owl eyes are even large compared to other owls!  If human eyes were proportionally the same size, they would be like two grapefruits, weighing about 5 lbs each. More details on their eyes here.

3. Their “horns” aren’t ears, but their ears are totally amazing too.


Great Horned Owls, and a few other “eared” owl species actually have feathers that form the shape of their horns, or ear tufts.  It’s not yet totally understood what they are for but the leading theories are that they aid in communication and camouflaging.  Their actual ears are located asymmetrically on each side of the head.  The owl can use this asymmetry to turn its head and quickly know where a sound is coming from.

4. Their grip is scary strong.

Great Horned Owl Talon
Great Horned Owl Talon. From The Modern Apprentice: http://www.themodernapprentice.com/feet.htm

Great Horned Owls feet have been measured to grip about 500 pounds per square inch (there are reports ranging from 300 to 3000 PSI). For comparison, the average human grip is about 20 PSI. (Thanks Chris from CPC!)

5. They can reconfigure their talons.

Great Horned Owl Talon
Great Horned Owl Talon in hunting posture. From http://people.eku.edu/ritchisong/birddigestion.html

The outside talon on each GHO foot is opposable, just like human thumbs.  This means they can switch between a 3-1 talon configuration for perching and a 2-2 configuration for hunting and grasping.

6. They are a 2-foot tall powerhouse.

owl and ewok
Shot taken on the Forest Moon of Endor.

Great Horned Owls range from 1.5 to 2 feet in height and weigh about 2-4.5 lbs.  That’s just a foot shorter than an Ewok!  And considering that they can take down “almost any living creature that walks, crawls, flies, or swims, except the large mammals” (from “The Life History of American Birds Of Prey” by Arthur Cleveland Bent), even Ewoks should beware.

7. They know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. [currently under debate]

owl and tootsie pop

In 1969, a Tootsie Pop commercial asked what has now become an age-old question: “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” In the ad, a wise cartoon owl answered “3 licks” but it cheated by biting.  Fortunately, thorough research has since been conducted both with human lickers (144 licks) and mechanical tongues (about 400).  The most recent study, published in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics indicated that it would take 1000-2500 licks to get to the center.   We may never have a definitive answer but if you do happen to conduct your own research, remember: “Give a hoot – don’t pollute!

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