The California Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus pacificus) is our bird of choice for this month’s “Dunes in Flight.” The great horned owl’s range is extensive across North and South America, and can be observed in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Complex by birders lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this majestic hunter. The bird’s plumage is rich brown with dark stripes on its underside. Its average wing span is roughly 2 feet. The average weight of male great horned owls is about 2.2lbs. Females, on average, are 2.9lbs.
The “horns” on its head are actually feathers that aid the owl in hearing its prey rustling through leaves and twigs during the night. Their disc-shaped faces direct sound waves into their ears more effectively, also granting them enhanced hearing. This bird, along with all other owls, has fringes on its feathers that dampen the sound of wind passing over its wings as they flap. Its feather design is what gives the owl its ability of silent flight – a crucial aspect of their nocturnal hunting strategy. Their eyes are also amongst the largest and most acute in the animal kingdom. They primarily hunt rabbits and hares, rats and mice, and other small rodents. They have been known to hunt larger mammals, other birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. They fill a niche in our coastal ecosystem similar to that of the red-tailed hawk, but rather they hunt during the night.
Will Meyst – Educational Program Coordinator