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Great Horned Owls Thaw Cached Prey

1-13-14 great horned owl l MH_20091001_225056_4Great Horned Owls are one of the earliest species of birds to nest in the Northeast –some are already sitting on eggs. Female Great Horned Owls do the lion’s share of incubating the eggs, while the male hunts for and brings her food. While they do eat small rodents, which they swallow whole, the diet of Great Horned Owls also consists of rabbits, hares, opossums, squirrels and skunks, which must be torn into small pieces before being swallowed. Great Horned Owls often kill more than they can eat at one time, and cache the extra food for later consumption, when food is scarce. Needless to say, during winter months the cached prey freezes, and if the prey is large, its consumption is challenging for a bird with a bill that’s designed for shredding and tearing. To solve this dilemma, Great Horned Owls sit on their frozen prey until it thaws, and then proceed to tear it into bite-size pieces.

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7 responses

  1. Nat

    In Wellfleet we have had a Snowy Owl devoured by something. Since part of it was left in a cedar tree the current conclusion is that it was attacked and devoured by a Great Horned Owl. Any evidence of that from your readership?

    January 13, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    • That is fascinating, Nat — and hard to have seen, I’m sure. I know that Great Horned Owls prey on Ospreys and Peregrine Falcons, so even though they are slightly smaller than Snowy Owls, I imagine they might very well be able to take one down. Perhaps another reader has firsthand knowledge of this…

      January 13, 2014 at 9:45 pm

  2. Hi Mary! Are you saying that Great-horned Owls are actually laying and sitting on eggs in the crazy cold weather we have been having? Or, are they further south enjoying balmier weather than we are in zone 4?

    I am fairly certain I heard an owl at dawn a few mornings ago (we are weird people who sleep with our windows open even when the thermometer says below zero). It only called hoo hoo hoo once, softly, so not sure what kind of owl.

    January 14, 2014 at 2:19 am

    • Hi Helen,
      It’s not unheard of for Great Horned Owls to be courting and sitting on eggs this early, but it’s more likely in late February or March in northern N.E.

      January 14, 2014 at 2:59 pm

  3. Nat

    We certainly have Great Horned Owls here in Eastham, on Cape Cod. Many nights at dusk we hear them.

    January 14, 2014 at 3:15 am

  4. What a coincidence to read your post today – I haven’t seen or heard of a great horned owl in my area for years and years but we are vacationing on the central Gulf coast of FL this week and a nesting pair are in the pines above our cottage. I love to hear their soft hooting. There are lots of seabirds in the bayous here including osprey, which I am surprised to learn that they prey upon. They are certainly a very large bird, so I imagine they could take down big prey!

    January 14, 2014 at 4:18 am

  5. gladpoet@aol.com

    I have only sen one in my life. They are beautiful but look like they mean business. I would not like to be a mouse and have the shadow of its wings come over me.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    January 14, 2014 at 2:09 pm

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