Back to Nature (Published on TBNWeekly.com - Sept. 30, 2005)
The great horned owl, winged tiger of nature
The awe-inspiring great horned owl, Tyto alba, is the subject matter of countless
poems, stories, legends and is the catalyst of primordial superstitions. The great
horned owl possesses the silence of the night, the wisdom to see what others are
unable to see and to stealthily triumph under the cover and shield of darkness.
|Photo by Rick Tremmel
|The great horned
The adaptable great horned owl can be found in a vast variety of habitats from sea
level, Tierra del Fuego, to tree limit, 11,000 foot elevation. The great horned owl
is only found in the Americas. Its preferred habitat is deciduous woods meeting the
requirements of nesting and roosting sites, camouflage and plentiful prey.
This owl has large ear tufts that appear as horns. It is a large
powerful, nocturnal bird about 18 to 25 inches tall with a wing span of 50 to 60
inches and weighs about three pounds. Like all owls, their large eyes cannot move.
To look up, down or to the side the owls must move their entire heads and are able
to turn their necks 180 degrees.
The great horned owl is primarily mottled dark brown with black spots above and
pale brown under-parts below with a conspicuous white throat bib. The upper chest
has dark, at times softened streaks. They have a large head and bright yellow eyes.
The facial disks are deep, rusty brown bordered at the sides in black. The female
lays one to five eggs, but most commonly two white eggs. Both sexes participate in
incubation, which takes 26 to 30 days. The young begin flying at nine weeks of age.
Great horned owls generally mate for life.
The call of the great horned owl is a series of deep, resonant, low, sonorous, far
carrying hoots, hoo, hoo-hoo, HOO HOO. The Cherokees tell a story of why the owl
makes this mournful call:
A Cherokee mother advises her beautiful daughter it is time for her to choose a
husband. The young woman had many suitors, but none pleased her. One was too
boastful, one was too fat, one was too loud and so on. Then one day a very handsome
man came to the door and asked to speak with the mother.
He told her he had come to ask for permission to marry her daughter. The mother
asked, Are you a good hunter? Yes, my name is U-gu-ku and I am a
very good hunter. The mother asks her daughter, This man says he wants
to marry you. Would you like to marry him? The daughter had never seen such a
handsome man before, soft spoken and a good hunter, so she agreed.
The first night after their wedding the young man went hunting and brought back
three small fish, explaining, This is all I was able to find. Each
night after it was the same until the mother and daughter became concerned. One
night the mother told the daughter shed better go after the husband and watch
As the daughter watched her new husband he began to run and then became an owl
soaring in the night sky. He flew over the land in search of food for the mother
and his new bride. When he
returned home he brought with him three voles and placed them on the table. The
mother confronted him.
U-gu-ku, you are not a good hunter. You are an owl. You have lied to
U-gu-ku protested, I never lied. I am an owl and for an owl I am a very good
hunter. The daughter packed her things and left, I dont want to
be married to an owl! U-gu-ku was heartbroken for he loved the girl very
He turned back into being an owl and flew through the forest mournfully calling
for his lost bride: Hoo, hoo-hoo, Hoo Hoo. To this day when you walk the forest,
you can still hear the great horned owl sadly calling for his lost love.
The great horned owls are noted for their
aggressive hunting prowess and are referred to as, winged tigers among the
most pronounced and savage of birds of prey. Their diet is varied; rabbits,
hawks, snakes, lizards, frogs, insects, scorpions, rats, mice, and rabbits, ground
squirrels, opossums and even skunks and on occasion fish. They eat some birds, up
to the size of geese, hawks, and smaller owls.
For such a large bird the great horned owl is rarely seen but often heard. Whether
the song of this owl is one of a lost love or the call from a winged tiger, the
great horned owl of the sleepless, silent night inspires our imaginations and
honors us with stories to share around a warming fire back to nature.
Karen can be reached at MyMuddyPawsStudio@gmail.com.