June 2020 Birds Need Plants Photo Contest

Mother giving love to young © Barbara Surman 02 Phillippe Park Safety Harbor 
            Canon 1DX, 300 2.8 2x teleconverter, 379mm, ISO 1250, 1/ 500, f/7.1
Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus

Birds have affection for each other
by Juanita Baker

This mother owl shows such affection for her young fluff-ball with its sharp, gray beak and inquisitive eyes peering out!  The mother stays on the nest to regulate the temperature of her brood, feed them, and protect them from predators.  The father roosts during the day in a nearby tree.  He’s the night-owl bread winner. He brings the mother and 2-4 nestlings 90% mammals (mainly rabbits and rodents, even porcupines). These owls are opportunists with the broadest diet of any North American owl. They take worms, scorpions, reptiles, and even birds like ducks, geese, herons and other owl species! It is one of the few predators of skunks.  All protein is game, provided for the mother and growing nestlings who will gain 29 times their birth weight in 25 days!

Great Horned Owls are long lived as they have no predators. They have such strong talons and beaks, with strength to lift prey heavier than themselves— they rule!  Their nest sites are the most varied of any bird. Like all owls, they never build their own nest. In this case, the mother has found a crook of a large oak with Spanish moss and resurrection ferns aiding in camouflage. They’ve been known to take over other predator’s nests, even Bald Eagle nests, but they also nest on cliffs, caves, ledges, buildings, artificial platforms, pipes, and even have laid eggs on the ground. They line their nest with leaves, Spanish moss, and downy feathers from their breast, or with fur or feathers of prey.

Great Horned Owls are residents, they do not migrate, though would move if food is scarce. They have evolved into five subspecies across their wide range from Alaska to South America. Florida’s subspecies is Bubo virginianus virginianus which ranges from Minnesota to Nova Scotia, south to East Texas and Florida, with similar coloration throughout.  Their tufts look like horns or ears, but are not, yet when erect make them look fierce!


 Artuso, C., C. S. Houston, D. G. Smith, and C. Rohner (2020). Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.grhowl.01

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