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Owl, great horned (Bubo virginianus)
The great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is a large and powerful bird of prey, with characteristic horn-like ear tufts from which it gains its common name. The second largest owl in North America, the great horned owl also has a distinctive white ‘bib’, or throat patch, as well extraordinarily large yellow eyes and powerful, fully feathered talons. The female is generally larger and heavier than the male and also has a brood patch which is not present in the male. In general, the overall appearance of the male and female great horned owl is fairly similar. The plumage of the great horned owl has an undertone of white to buff, which is suffused with darker shades of brown, grey-brown or black-brown. The throat is white or sometimes orange-buff, which is especially visible when the bird is perched or calling. The underside of the body is buff, with light and dark brown barring and dark brown tips to the feathers. On the face, the well-defined tawny facial disk is encircled by a narrow black band, and has two white ‘eyebrows’ above the eyes. The bill is slate-coloured or black and is partially hidden within the facial feathers. The legs of the great horned owl are fully feathered and are mottled brown or buff, while the tail is short and barred, with white edges. Juvenile great horned owls look fairly similar to the adults, with a slightly more red-buff colouration and softer, looser feathers, which are fluffy in appearance. The horn-like tufts on the head are shorter and the cinnamon-buff feathers on the head have paler tips. The breast and face of the juvenile great horned owl are much darker than in the adult, with more black and dark brown colouration. There are at least 16 subspecies of great horned owl, all of which differ in size, as well as the colour and pattern of their plumage. The characteristic territorial, hooting call of the great horned owl is a low-pitched, solemn ‘who-hoo-ho-oo’. The vocalisations of the male and female are similar, although the male’s are usually longer, deeper and more elaborate, with a different rhythm. When calling, the male will usually position itself on a high perch, inflating its throat to display the conspicuous white throat patch. The ‘horns’ of the great horned owl are also known as ear tufts, although they don’t actually have anything to do with hearing. The great horned owl has a very varied diet, and on occasion it has been known to take porcupines and even domestic cats as prey. The neck of the great horned owl can rotate up to 180 degrees to provide this species with almost all-round vision.

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