Owls are just the coolest creatures. Sometimes I forget that they're even birds. Great Horned Owls are probably the most widespread owl throughout North America, and they are easily identified by their ear tufts (horns). Although these aren't actually ears or horns, but tufts of feathers likely used to convey body language much like a dog or cat. I usually start to notice them around this time of year, and they're around through to January or February when mating occurs. If you hear an owl at night, it is almost certainly this guy.
Photo: National Geographic
Great Horned owls are the only predators of skunks, interestingly enough. They also prey on other owls, juvenile osprey, crows, and mostly small mammals like squirrels and mice. Do you remember dissecting owl pellets in grade 3? Yes, those nuggets were compliments of this fellow. They eat their prey whole, and then regurgitate the unwanted bones and fur about 6 hours later, hence the abundance of pellets for young children to inspect.
This guy was perching on our tree for a good couple of hours staring intently at a small patch of grass beneath. He didn't seem to mind my hyperventilating excitement for getting so close.
Pairs are monogamous throughout their entire lives, and each year they use abandoned nests of other large birds instead of constructing their own. And they are fiercely protective of their young. Wouldn't you be too, if your babies looked like this?
Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service