Great Horned Owl: hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo

Great Horned Owl-©SeEttaMoss

I heard a Great Horned Owl calling ‘hoo-hoo hoooo hoo-hoo’ from a neighbors tree a few nights ago reminding me that January and February are some of the best times of the year to hear their very deep territorial calls. Though these owls may call at other times of the year, they engage in the most frequent calling during these months as it is nesting season in all but extreme southern portions of their range. This species of owl is found throughout the United States and Canada plus into much of Mexico, Central America and even parts of South America.

The owl in my two photos is the same owl just taken from a different vantage point so they show much of their characteristics. Those two feathery tufts on top of their head, though the reason they are called ‘Great Horned’, are not horns or even ‘ear tufts’–they are only tufts of feathers which are thought to help camouflage them.

Great Horned Owl-©SeEttaMoss


The video below provides a lot of interesting information about Great Horned Owls as well as amazing close-ups of one that came from a rehabilitation center (these are great places to see raptors up close and the small admission fees help support their efforts).

You can purchase a poster or special edition print from Birds and Blooms Magazine. You can enjoy more photos and interesting information on this species in blogs earlier this year right on Birds and Blooms Magazine’s blog site. A cool photo of a Great Horned Owl was featured in a Birds and Blooms Magazine blog by Lorie last fall and Noelle blogged about this species nesting in cactus last winter.

The best way to see a wild Great Horned Owl is to hear one hooting. They will often hoot from the vicinity of a chosen or potential nest site which in many locations is in a tree or a cliff ledge, sometimes deserted buildings or from artificial nest platforms. They often use nests built previously by other species such as hawks. They are most active at dawn and dusk (from about an hour after sunset to a shorter time in the early morning before sunrise) when they are hunting for food and can sometimes be spotted on a utility pole or flying after prey. As their voices carry a long distance when there are fewer other noises, go to a location that is quiet and listen.

Have you seen or heard a Great Horned Owl? Please share your experiences below.

  1. says

    I live in the city of Milwaukee and there is a Great Horned Owl who lives three houses down from mine, and across the street. A couple of weeks ago when we had warm temperatures during the day we heard hooing and were able to see his silhouette in the tall Oak tree where he is nesting…so very cool and mystical.

    • says

      Hi Jenny, thanks for your comment. You are very fortunate to have one that lives just down the street. If your owl is nesting, you may be able to see it’s nest during the daylight though you may need to wait until it is sitting on eggs as then the female will be on the nest, and more visible, much of the day. Just be sure to keep your distance so you do not disturb the nesting. Good luck

    • says

      M.J.–in your area, Great Horned Owls may start nesting as early as December. I visited Slidell in the winter of 2005/6. I was in the area (near New Orleans) to assist with animal victims of Hurricane Katrina. I drove to a few areas to see the hurricane and flooding damage to homes and businesses and I went to a few wildlife areas to see how their habitat was damaged. I stopped briefly at Pearl River State Wildlife Area then came into Slidell to go to the Big Branch Marsh because it was very important for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Of course there were a lot of trees down and not able to get into it. I still recall all the downed trees and have photos of them. I saw and photographed my first Red-cockaded Woodpeckers there. Thanks for your comment, you have brought back a lot of memories.

  2. Russell Kirksey says

    I live in Grand Blanc Mi and was awakened by two Great Horned Owls by their hoo- hoo- hoooo about 3:00 a.m. a couple of weeks ago. I went outside and was able to see the two in adjacent trees calling and responding to one another. I have since heard one on another early morning about 4:00 a.m. I am hopeful that they nest nearby.

  3. Rach says

    Two nights ago, I heard a creaky scream coming from the area of my second-story deck, and it reminded me of a juvenile great horned owl that I had heard on an owl walk once. Yet that impression was difficult to confirm, as barn owls and young barred owls can make similar harsh, toneless noises too. Last night, however, I was able to hear the “who’s awake” calls of the parents. I have great horned owls nesting in my yard!!! It explains the absence of other owl species, the low feral rabit population (unusual for my area), and the recent agitation of the crows.

    Also, someone I know does owl rescue, and he’s currently trying to get a great horned with an injured wing glove-trained so that it can be exhibited. Thus I have had the chance to see one of these massive, gorgeous birds in broad daylight, close up.

    I consider myself very lucky in the great horned owl department. ;)

    • says

      Rach-I agree, you are very lucky to have Great Horned Owls nesting in your yard! That would certainly shake up some of the neighbors like the crow family and provide population control for small mammals like rabbits.

  4. Notafan says

    I would have loved to see the owl we have that perches on my house about 5 years ago but since I know have a small dog I really just wish he would go away. Any suggestions to keep my dog safe?

    • says

      Sorry for the very late reply, I don’t always catch comments for my earlier posts. If you have a very small dog the only way I know to ensure their safety from large owls, other raptors, coyotes, foxes ,etc is to supervise them closely when they are outdoors.

  5. says

    I live in Cleveland, MS. We often hear the great horned owls from inside but I was upset that I had never seen one. That morning, in late winter or early spring, i Heard them hooting! I got up and spotted one in my pecan tree in the backyard! Then I realized that there were owls everywhere and they were hooting and gliding from tree to tree! With my binoculars I watched them until they flew out of site beyond my yard! I will never forget that morning and hope to witness it again one day!

    • says

      Sarah–sounds like you were privileged to witness a family with recently fledged offspring so all still together–isn’t that fun. The best times to see them are dusk and dawn when they are visible (they hunt at night but much harder to see) and still active. Thanks for sharing

  6. Tamara says

    I live in Tempe Arizona. Last week I started hearing a great horned owl im my neighbors backyard. Last night I woke at 5 am to his or her calls. I sat on the patio for a while to enjoy it. I could hear another hooting in reply somewhere off in the distance. The one closest to me did a series of short single hoots a few times. I wondered what that call meant. Thoughts? I feel so lucky! What a special treat!

    • says

      Hello Tamara,
      Isn’t it a neat experience to listen to Great Horned Owl serenade each other from your home? I agree it is a special treat. Sorry, but I can’t provide any insight into the series of single hoots in comparison to their usual call. However, when two owls call back and forth that is either pair bonding or a part of their breeding behavior.

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