Cawing Corvidae

Observing Great Horned Owls.

Great Horned Owl in winter, Wyoming

Great Horned Owl in winter, Wyoming (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To a great horned owl, anything that can be killed is food.  Including creatures that walk, slither, crawl, fly, or swim, exempting large mammals.  They are also the main predator of skunks (having a very small olfactory sense), crows and their young.  Crows sometimes congregate from considerable distances to mob owls and caw angrily at them for hours on end. When the owls try to fly off to avoid this harassment, they are often followed by the Corvidae.  To obtain sustenance, these owls certainly need a little help.  Especially if that food is anything like foxes, hawks, or other owls.  Great horned owls mostly rely on secrecy and stealth.  They also have natural-colored plumage which makes them well camouflaged at night as well as in the daytime.  The eyes of the great horned owl also assist them greatly.  Being almost as big as the eyes of a human, owls’ eyes are immobile within their circular bone sockets.   As a result, instead of turning its eyes, an owl must turn its whole head, the neck capable of rotating a full 270 degrees, in order to see in various directions without moving its entire body.  Another main factor is the great horned owl’s claws.  In some cases the gripping power of the Great horned owl’s talons may be compared to much larger raptor species such as the golden eagle.   Owls hunt mainly by watching from a snag, pole, or other high perch, sometimes completely concealed by the dusky night and/or partially hidden by foliage. From such vantage points, owls dive down to the ground, often with wings folded, to ambush their prey.  They also hunt by flying low over openings on the ground, scanning below for prey activity.  These owls have even been known to wade into shallow water for aquatic prey, although this has been only rarely reported.  Almost all prey is killed with the owl’s talons, often instantly, though some may be bitten on the face as well. The prey is swallowed whole when possible. However an owl will also fly with prey to a perch and tear off pieces with its bill. Very large prey, any that is notably heavier than the owl. In northern regions where such large prey is prevalent, an owl may let uneaten food freeze and then thaw it out later using its own body heat. When prey is swallowed whole, owls regurgitate pellets of bone and other non-digestible bits about 6 to 10 hours later, usually in the same location where the prey was consumed.  In conclusion, great horned owls are the supreme avian predator of the north although they can be averted by a mob of cawing crows.

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