Beware Of The Great Horned Owl
I’m often asked about predators when a cat has disappeared for an extended period of time. People in wooded urban or suburban areas first believe their cat was stolen by someone or chased off by a dog. Another question on the list is “What about a large predatory bird?” Believe it or not, it’s a strong possibility that a bird of prey can swoop down and fly off with a cat. It’s not one of the more common scenarios, but it does happen. One such bird of prey that’s been implicated in a lot of cat disappearances is the Great Horned Owl.
The Great Horned Owl is one of the most impressive birds in our country. It stands 19 to 24 inches tall with a wingspan of up to 60 inches (yes, that’s about 5 feet!). It’s a fearless bird of prey. It has long feather tufts, large bright yellow eyes, and a white “collar” around the throat. Its deep-pitched call, repeated up to eight times, can be heard for miles on a still night. The Great Horned Owl is primarily a woodland species, but is occasionally found in parks and orchards. It is non-migratory and occurs throughout the state in good numbers year round.
They have great vision allowing them to see in low light conditions. The eyes of Great Horned Owls are similar in size to those of humans. Like humans, an owl’s vision is binocular as well. The eyes can’t move like we can move our eyes and owls instead just turn their heads to see. It can turn its neck to a full 270 degrees in order to see in other directions without moving its entire body.
An owl’s hearing is probably better than its vision. They even have better depth perception and better perception of sound elevation than humans. Owl ears are not placed in the same position on either side of their head so they are better at hearing sounds at particular elevations better than most animals. The right ear is set higher in the skull and at a slightly different angle. By turning its head until the sound is the same in each ear, an owl can pinpoint sound coming from any direction.
Now for the bad news. These birds hunt at night by waiting and watching patiently and then swooping down on prey. Prey is varied. Great Horned Owls are fearless, voracious, eating machines with wings. They’ve been known to swoop down and grab a small, toy sized dog even if it’s attached to a leash. Unfortunately, a tug-of-war match between a strong owl and a dog owner will often be won by the owl. They even kill other birds of prey.