Where Do Great Horned Owls Live? About Their Habitat and Territory

Great horned owls are fascinating creatures, known for their distinctive “hoo-hoo” calls and striking appearance. These large owls are found in various parts of the world and are admired for their incredible adaptability to different environments. Understanding where these majestic birds live helps us appreciate the diversity of wildlife and the importance of habitat conservation. It also highlights the adaptability of these owls, which can thrive in a range of settings from dense forests to urban landscapes. This adaptability is a key aspect of their survival and an interesting point of study for both bird enthusiasts and scientists.

So, where do great horned owls live? Great horned owls inhabit a variety of environments including forests, deserts, urban areas, and wetlands. Their ability to adapt to different habitats makes them one of the most widespread owl species in the Americas.

Physical Characteristics of Great Horned Owls’ Habitats

Types of Environments


Great horned owls are often found in forests, ranging from the dense, leafy woods to sparse, pine-dominated areas. These forests provide ample tree cover and a rich supply of prey, making them ideal for hunting and nesting. The owls use the tall trees for perching and surveying their territory, and the diverse plant life supports a variety of small animals that form their diet.


In deserts, great horned owls show remarkable adaptability. They thrive in these arid environments by hunting at night when temperatures are cooler. The sparse vegetation and open spaces of deserts offer great visibility for hunting. Owls find shelter in rock crevices or abandoned burrows, using these areas to escape the daytime heat and raise their young.

Urban Areas

Great horned owls have also adapted to urban environments. They are often seen in city parks, cemeteries, and sometimes even in busy neighborhoods. These owls take advantage of the urban trees and buildings for nesting and roosting. The presence of rodents and other small urban wildlife provides a steady food source, allowing them to thrive even in the midst of human activity.


Wetlands are another habitat where great horned owls flourish. These areas, with their mix of water and land, offer a diverse range of prey, from fish to small mammals. The tall trees around wetlands are perfect for nesting, while the open water areas provide excellent hunting grounds. The unique ecosystem of wetlands supports a rich food chain that sustains these owls.

Climate and Temperature Range

Great horned owls are versatile and can live in a variety of climates, from the cold, snowy regions to the warm, dry deserts. They are resilient to temperature changes, which allows them to inhabit diverse areas across the Americas.

Great Horned Owl Territory Size

A great horned owl’s territory can be quite large, typically ranging from 2 to 8 square miles. This size varies depending on the availability of food and nesting sites within the area. They are territorial birds and often use the same area year after year.

Geographic Distribution of Great Horned Owls

North America

Great horned owls are a common sight across North America, inhabiting a wide range of environments. From the dense, evergreen forests in the north to the arid deserts of the southwest, these owls make their home wherever they can find suitable shelter and abundant food. In the United States, they are spread across all states, adapting effortlessly to the varying climates and landscapes. In Canada, their presence is significant, especially in wooded areas and along the edges of open spaces.

In the northern parts of North America, great horned owls have adapted to the colder temperatures, often seen perched in snow-covered trees during the winter months. In these regions, their thick feathers provide the necessary insulation against the harsh cold. Moving south, in areas like the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, they utilize the vast open lands and the rocky outcrops for nesting and hunting. The adaptability of these owls is also evident in the southeastern states, where they are often found in mixed forests and swampy areas, making use of the rich biodiversity these habitats offer.

Urban settings are not off-limits to these adaptable birds. In cities and suburbs across North America, great horned owls have been observed nesting in parks, on building ledges, and even in backyard trees, taking advantage of the urban prey like rodents and small birds. This ability to thrive in both natural and modified landscapes speaks to the great horned owl’s versatility and resilience as a species. Their widespread distribution in North America makes them one of the continent’s most recognized and adaptable birds of prey.

Central and South America

Great horned owls are also a significant presence in Central and South America. In these regions, they are adaptable to a variety of environments, from the tropical rainforests of the Amazon to the mountainous regions of the Andes. Their ability to live in different habitats is a testament to their versatility as a species.

In Central America, these owls are commonly found in countries like Mexico, where they inhabit both the dense forests and the drier northern areas. The diverse landscape of Central America, with its mix of rainforests, mountains, and coastal areas, provides an ideal setting for these owls to hunt and nest.

Moving further south into South America, great horned owls continue to demonstrate their adaptability. In countries like Brazil and Argentina, they are often seen in the expansive rainforests, utilizing the tall trees for perching and nesting. The lush, dense vegetation of the rainforests offers ample hunting opportunities, with a wide variety of prey available.

In the Andean regions, these owls adapt to the higher altitudes and cooler temperatures. Their presence in such varied climates and landscapes across Central and South America highlights their remarkable ability to adjust to different environments. This adaptability ensures their survival and widespread distribution across the continents.

Nesting Habits of Great Horned Owls

Choosing a Nesting Site

When it comes to choosing a nesting site, great horned owls are quite particular. They prefer locations that offer safety and proximity to food sources. Typically, these birds do not build their own nests. Instead, they often take over nests built by other large birds, like hawks or crows, or they might use natural cavities in trees, cliffs, and even abandoned buildings.

The height of the nest is an important factor. Great horned owls usually select nesting sites that are high up, providing a strategic advantage for both watching over their territory and protecting their young from ground predators. The surrounding area of the nest is equally crucial. They look for areas that have a good supply of food, which includes small mammals, birds, and reptiles. This ensures that the parent owls don’t have to travel far to feed their chicks.

Another consideration is the cover and concealment provided by the nesting site. Great horned owls prefer locations that offer some camouflage, helping them to remain hidden from potential threats. This can be in the form of dense foliage around tree nests or secluded spots in more urban environments. The accessibility of the site to the owls, yet its inaccessibility to most predators and human disturbances, is a delicate balance that these birds expertly manage when selecting their nesting location.

Nesting Season and Behavior

The nesting season for great horned owls typically begins in late winter or early spring. This is earlier than many other bird species, often starting in January or February. The early start is important as it ensures that the young are well-developed by the time spring arrives, which is when food sources become more abundant.

During this period, the behavior of great horned owls shifts significantly. They become more territorial and vocal, often heard hooting to establish their territory and attract a mate. The female owl takes on the primary role of incubating the eggs, while the male provides food for her. This partnership is crucial for the survival of their offspring.

The incubation period for the eggs lasts about 30 to 37 days. Once the owlets hatch, both parents are involved in feeding and protecting them. The owlets grow rapidly, and within a few weeks, they start to explore outside the nest, preparing for their eventual independence. This nesting behavior underscores the importance of a stable and safe nesting environment for the successful rearing of their young.


In conclusion, the great horned owl is a remarkable bird with a wide range of habitats, from forests and deserts to urban areas and wetlands. Their adaptability to different climates and environments, along with their diverse nesting habits, highlights their resilience as a species. Understanding where and how these owls live is crucial for their conservation. By appreciating and respecting their habitats and behaviors, we can ensure that these majestic birds continue to thrive in the wild. This knowledge not only enriches our understanding of wildlife but also helps in preserving the delicate balance of our ecosystems.

Where Do Great Horned Owls Live? – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What states do Great Horned Owls live in?

Great Horned Owls live in all states across the United States. They are very adaptable and can thrive in a variety of environments, from dense forests to urban areas. This wide distribution makes them one of the most common owls in the country.

What time of year do Great Horned Owls nest?

Great Horned Owls usually nest in late winter or early spring, often starting around January or February. This early nesting period is essential for the young owls to grow strong by spring when food becomes more plentiful. Both parents take part in raising the young during this time.