Family Typical Owls (Strigidae)

Least Concern

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)


French: Grand-duc d’Amérique German: Virginiauhu Spanish: Búho americano

Strix virginiana

J. F. Gmelin

, 1788,

Virginia, USA


Has been considered to belong to the B. bubo species-group (see that species, below). Formerly included B. magellanicus as a race, but DNA, voice and morphology found to differ. N populations lagophonus and heterocnemis possibly not separable from saturatus, and perhaps better merged with latter. Boundaries of races often obscure, and problem further complicated by birds of intermediate appearance; pacificus and pallescens intergrade in California. Numerous geographical races named, many poorly differentiated, or apparently result of individual variation, or of wandering individuals from other parts of range: forms described from C Canada (scalariventris), Venezuela (scotinus), E Colombia (elutus) and C Colombia (colombianus) considered not acceptable; also, name occidentalis, used for birds from Rocky Mts of WC Canada to WC USA, now synonymized with subarcticus; older name wapacuthu formerly applied to populations of W & C Canada and N USA (limits uncertain), but validity questioned as it cannot be certainly associated with present species#R. Fifteen races tentatively recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • B. v. algistus (Oberholser, 1904) – W Alaska coast (Kotzebue Sound S to Bristol Bay).
  • B. v. lagophonus (Oberholser, 1904) – interior Alaska (except N) S in mountains to NE Oregon and NW Montana; in winter S to Texas.
  • B. v. saturatus Ridgway, 1877 – coast from SE Alaska to N California.
  • B. v. pacificus Cassin, 1854 – coast of California (except N) S to extreme NW Mexico (NW Baja California).
  • B. v. elachistus Brewster, 1902 – S Baja California.
  • B. v. subarcticus P. R. Hoy, 1853 – C Canada (E Yukon, Northwest Territories and NW British Columbia E to S Hudson Bay), S in USA at least to Wyoming and North Dakota.
  • B. v. pinorum Dickerman & A. B. Johnson, 2008 – W USA in Rocky Mts from S Idaho S to Arizona and New Mexico.
  • B. v. pallescens Stone, 1897 – C California (San Joaquin Valley) and deserts of SE California E to S Utah, and W Kansas, S to Arizona, New Mexico and SW Texas (Guadalupe Mts) and S through Mexico to Guerrero and W Veracruz.
  • B. v. heterocnemis (Oberholser, 1904) – E Canada (Quebec and Newfoundland S to Great Lakes region).
  • B. v. virginianus (J. F. Gmelin, 1788) – extreme SE Canada (Nova Scotia and Prince Edward I) and E USA (E from Minnesota, S through E Kansas and E Texas to Florida).
  • B. v. mayensis Nelson, 1901 – Yucatán Peninsula.
  • B. v. mesembrinus (Oberholser, 1904) – S Mexico (from Isthmus of Tehuantepec) to W Panama.
  • B. v. nigrescens Berlepsch, 1884 – Andes from Colombia to NW Peru (Piura).
  • B. v. nacurutu (Vieillot, 1817) – lowlands from N & E Colombia to the Guianas; also S Peru and Bolivia across to NE Brazil, S to EC Argentina (Buenos Aires).
  • B. v. deserti Reiser, 1905 – E Brazil (NC Bahia).
  • Introduced (nominate race) to S Marquesas Is (Hiva Oa), in S Pacific.

    Descriptive notes

    45–60 cm; male 985–1585 g, female 1417–2503 g; wingspan 91–152 cm. Large, powerful owl, ear tufts large and erect, plumage distinctly greyish to grey-... read more


    Song consists of 3–8 loud hoots, the second and third notes typically short and rapid. Male... read more


    Wide range of wooded habitats, mainly open, from deciduous to mixed and coniferous forest, second... read more

    Food and feeding

    Very diverse range of prey includes small mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and insects and other invertebrates; sometimes takes... read more


    Season approximately Dec–Jul, with late nests being second attempts after initial failures; female observed to incubate in sub-zero... read more


    Mostly resident, but some movement by N birds. In Canada (Saskatchewan), substantial SE movement in... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). CITES II. Widespread, but densities low; few population estimates; Partners in Flight estimates a global population of 5.3 million... read more

    Recommended citation

    Holt, D.W., Berkley, R., Deppe, C., Enríquez Rocha, P., Petersen, J.L., Rangel Salazar, J.L., Segars, K.P., Wood, K.L. & Marks, J.S. (2020). Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 23 February 2020).