Great Horned Owls in the Treetops

A pair of Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) visit my Tucson, Arizona yard on moonlit winter nights, where they like to perch at the tops of the highest trees to do their territorial hooting. Great Horned Owls will begin nesting here early in the year, often in January or February, so they are busy establishing and maintaining their nesting territory during the wintertime.

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

On this particular night, one of the pair of Great Horned Owls was perched at the top of a tall Silkoak (Grevillea robusta) tree on the right side of my yard.

The other owl was perched at the top of an Italian Cyprus (Cupressus sempervirens) on the left side of my yard. The tip of the Italian Cyprus was bent under the weight of the owl, and the unperturbed owl was bobbing around on the bent tree tip like it was on a springy diving board.

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

The sexes look similar, but female Great Horned Owls are larger, so they are difficult to tell apart unless they are perched side by side.

During the winter, the evenings are quite chilly here in Tucson, so the Great Horned Owls puff up their insulating feathers to keep themselves warm, making them look a bit rotund.

Profile view of a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

With their large yellow eyes, gray-brown barred plumage, and feathered ear tufts, I've always thought that Great Horned Owls look very much like fierce tabby cats. Great Horned Owls get their name from their horn-like or ear-like feather tufts, but despite their appearance, the ear tufts have nothing to do with their hearing as a Great Horned Owl's ears are actually on the sides of its head.