How to Attract Great Horned Owls (What You Need to Know)

Whether for bird watching or pest control, if you want to get the great horned owl to call your backyard home, you need to know how to give them enough food, shelter, and protection.

Attracting these majestic birds to your backyard requires some careful planning and consideration, so we’ll tell you:

  • How to create an environment they can’t resist, including food sources and nesting options
  • Tips to attract great horned owls with brush piles, water sources, and quiet spaces
  • What you need to know about how to protect great horned owls from predators like raccoons and crows—and how to protect other animals from this great bird of prey

Getting to Know Great Horned Owls

great horned owl sitting on a stump

Physical Features

  • The Great Horned Owl is a remarkable and distinctive owl species found across North America. Recognizable by its large size, tufted ears, and piercing yellow eyes, it’s known for its powerful build and adaptability.
  • Its plumage varies from gray to brown, helping the owl camouflage itself in its surroundings.
  • Their wingspan can reach up to 5 feet, allowing them to achieve silent flight, a crucial element in their hunting prowess.

Read Next: What Birds Do Owls Eat?

Habitat and Distribution

  • As one of the most widespread owl species in North America, Great Horned Owls inhabit a variety of environments, including forests, deserts, wetlands, and even urban areas.
  • Their adaptability to different habitats is one of the key factors behind their successful distribution, making them versatile predators in various ecosystems.
  • They can be found from Alaska to Central and South America, showcasing their impressive range.

Diet and Hunting Technique

  • The diet of the Great Horned Owl consists mainly of small mammals, birds, and even other owls. Some of their favorite prey include rabbits, squirrels, mice, skunks, rats, voles, and gophers.
  • If given an opportunity, they’ll also go for critters like reptiles, and even insects.
  • They are skilled nocturnal predators, relying on their excellent hearing and night vision to locate and capture prey.
  • Their hunting technique involves perching high on a tree and waiting patiently for an opportunity to swoop down on unsuspecting prey. Using their sharp talons and powerful flight, they efficiently snatch their target, often killing it instantly with a strong grip.

Behavior and Communication

  • Great Horned Owls exhibit fascinating behavior, including their distinctive hooting calls used for territorial marking and communication with potential mates.
  • They are mostly solitary creatures, except during breeding season when they form monogamous pairs.
  • Although they are strong and fearless predators, they exhibit a cautious demeanor, avoiding human interaction and staying well-hidden during the day.

Understanding their needs and respecting their natural instincts is key when attempting to attract Great Horned Owls to your backyard or observing them in the wild.

How to Attract Great Horned Owls to Your Yard

great horned owl nesting in a tree

Select the Right Trees

To attract Great Horned Owls to your backyard, you should have the appropriate trees in your habitat. They typically prefer larger, mature trees with ample foliage for cover and nesting sites.

Consider planting native species such as oak, maple, or beech trees, which can provide excellent roosting opportunities.

If you have a wetlands environment nearby, incorporating willow, alder, and cottonwood trees may also create a favorable habitat for owls.

Provide Shelter and Roosting Sites

Great Horned Owls need safe and secure places to rest and nest. So, one effective way to attract them is by providing suitable nesting options.

Since they don’t build their own nests, they rely on existing ones, often using old hawk nests or nests built by magpies and crows. In some cases, they may also opt for ledges, cliffs, and even buildings or ground-level nesting sites.

To encourage them to choose your backyard as their preferred spot, provide natural shelters like dense foliage and nesting sites like hollow trees. 

In addition to natural shelters, installing owl nest boxes and platforms can help create a hospitable environment for Great Horned Owls, especially if you have open, grassy expanses where they can hunt.

Do Regular Maintenance

Maintaining the nest boxes and nesting sites is crucial to keep these elusive creatures coming back each season.

Regular maintenance involves cleaning out old nesting materials and ensuring the box’s structural integrity, while also providing an adequate shelter for these magnificent birds.

Keep It Dark

Natural darkness is an important factor in the success of these nocturnal predators. These birds thrive in dark environments where they can hunt small mammals and other birds without being detected.

To make your property more attractive to these owls, minimize outdoor flood lights and other sources of artificial lighting that could disrupt their hunting activities.

Give Them a Peaceful and Quiet Space

Keep in mind that Great Horned Owls prefer peace and quiet. That is, they appreciate undisturbed environments free from strong human activity and noise.

So, preserving a serene and noise-free environment is crucial when attracting Great Horned Owls to your backyard.

Make an effort to keep the owl-friendly areas of your property as quiet and undisturbed as possible, to create a welcoming habitat.

That means choosing areas in your backyard that are away from busy roads, continuous construction, and any other potential disturbances.

By respecting their privacy and providing a comfortable haven, you can create a suitable environment that will entice these regal birds to call your backyard their home.

Attracting Great Horned Owls with Food Sources

great horned owl flying through the sunset sky with prey in its talons

One of the most effective ways to attract great horned owls to your backyard is by providing an ample and diverse variety of food sources.

As owls are birds of prey, they predominantly feast on meat and require freshly killed prey.

In order to maintain a steady supply of food for these nocturnal hunters, you should focus on creating a thriving habitat for their natural food sources.

Go Natural

Allowing tall grass and vegetation to grow in at least a section of your yard can encourage rodents, bugs, and small mammals to inhabit your property and provide a reliable source of food for owls.

Avoid using harmful pesticides on your lawn, as this can decrease the populations of insects such as crickets and grasshoppers, which are also part of the owls’ diet.

Install a Pond

As mentioned earlier, reptiles and amphibians, such as frogs and snakes, are also on the menu for great horned owls.

You can attract reptiles and amphibians by creating a small pond or wetland area in your backyard. This water source will not only draw in various frog species and reptiles but can also work as a source of drinking water for the owls themselves.

Considering Water and Hygiene

When trying to attract Great Horned Owls to your backyard, it’s important to consider their water and hygiene needs.

These birds require water not only for drinking but also for keeping themselves clean. Providing a clean and safe water source can make your backyard more appealing to these regal creatures.

Set Up a Bird Bath

One option is to set up a bird bath in your backyard.

Bird baths should be shallow, with a depth of no more than 2-3 inches. This allows owls to easily access the water for drinking and bathing without the risk of drowning.

Make sure to clean the birdbath regularly, as stagnant water can attract mosquitoes and other pests.

It’s also crucial to ensure the water remains fresh and uncontaminated. You can do this by changing the water every few days or installing a small circulating pump.

Offer a Brush Pile

In addition to bird baths, creating a brush pile near the water source can be beneficial.

A brush pile provides a natural, sheltered area for owls to preen themselves after bathing, which helps with their overall hygiene. Moreover, it creates a habitat that supports the owls’ prey, such as small mammals or insects.

Make sure to place the water source and brush pile in an area that is safe and secure from potential threats like pets or predators. Owls are more likely to visit if they feel comfortable and secure while accessing the water.

Protecting Great Horned Owls

baby great horned owls in a tree

  • Great Horned Owls, like other raptors, face numerous threats during their life, especially when they’re young.
  • Predators such as raccoons and crows can attack nests, preying on eggs and helpless fledglings.
  • Creating a safe environment for them to nest and raise their young is key. One way to accomplish this is to provide them with a suitable nest box, placed out of reach of potential threats, enabling the owls to establish a secure, territorial home.
  • Another thing you can do is avoid using poisons to thwart mice and rats on your property. Poisoned prey = poisoned owls that eat them, leading to sickness and death.
  • Alternatively, use more eco-friendly approaches such as prevention or biological control methods to manage pests both in your yard and in adjacent habitats.

Protecting Other Critters from Great Horned Owls

Safeguarding Your Pets

  • Great horned owls are known to occasionally prey on small pets such as cats and small dogs.
  • So, make sure to supervise your pets when they are outside during dusk and nighttime hours to avoid any risk of predation by these skilled hunters.

Protecting Other Bird Species

  • When considering nesting options, it’s important to ensure the safety of both the owls and other backyard birds.
  • Remember that Great Horned Owls may prey on smaller birds, so monitor the rodent population in your area to provide alternative prey for these incredible raptors.

Monitoring and Maintaining the Backyard Habitat

Creating an inviting environment for great horned owls in your backyard habitat will attract these stately creatures. To do so, it’s important to maintain and keep an eye on your backyard’s overall health regularly.

Trees and Open Spaces

  • An ideal backyard habitat for great horned owls will have large trees and open spaces, serving as the perfect hunting ground.
  • These birds are often found in a variety of environments, including grasslands, deserts, and coniferous or deciduous forests, so using elements of these ecosystems will make your backyard more attractive to them.

Safe Perches

  • In addition to trees, great horned owls need large, safe perches above ground to survey their surroundings.
  • As such, consider installing a nesting box at least 10 feet above the ground and ensuring there’s a 20-foot-wide open space in front of it. This provides a secure area for the owls to rest, nest, and raise their young.

Keep Your Yard Healthy and Happy

  • Regularly check the health of your backyard habitat, including trees, plants, and the cleanliness of water sources.
  • Keeping your yard’s vegetation healthy and removing any potential hazards or pollutants will maintain a conducive environment for owls to flourish.
  • Lastly, always be mindful of the neighboring wildlife and habitats. Ensure that your backyard habitat coexists harmoniously with other animals, as great horned owls may not be compatible with all species, such as crows.

As you carefully monitor and maintain your backyard habitat, you’ll create a welcoming space for great horned owls to visit, nest, and potentially raise their young.

With a consistent, knowledgeable, and responsible approach, you can enjoy the captivating presence of these stately birds in your own backyard.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best nesting box for great horned owls?

Great horned owls prefer large nesting boxes with plenty of space. These boxes should be made from weather-resistant materials and have a sturdy construction.

Place the nesting box in a location that offers easy access and enough cover from predators, such as high up in a tree or near woodland edges.

Keep in mind that great horned owls often use existing nests from other large birds, so providing a platform or reusing an old nest can also be a suitable option.

Which owl calls are effective in attracting great horned owls?

Using recordings of great horned owl calls, such as the classic “hoo-hoo-hoo” call, may help attract these owls to your area.

Remember to play the calls at a natural volume and at appropriate intervals, mimicking the pattern of real owls communicating in the wild.

Be respectful of the owls’ natural behavior and limit the use of calls to avoid disturbing them unnecessarily. Also, be aware that using calls to attract these larger owls may scare off smaller species of owls that hear them.

What are ideal great horned owl nesting box dimensions?

A great horned owl nesting box should have an internal floor size of about 24 inches by 24 inches, accompanied by an entrance hole that is around 12 inches in diameter.

The box’s depth should be about 18 inches to provide ample space for the female owl and her offspring.

These dimensions ensure that the box is roomy enough to accommodate the owl and her eggs, keeping them safe and secure.

Where can I find a great horned owl nest?

Great horned owls prefer to nest in large trees or snags, usually within woodlands, forests, and large wooded areas.

They often reuse abandoned nests from other large bird species, like hawks, eagles, or herons. Look for nests high up in trees, typically on branches that provide ample support and a clear view of the surrounding area.

How can I attract owls to a nesting box?

To attract owls to a nesting box, ensure that it meets the necessary size requirements and is placed in a suitable location. It’s also important to provide the right habitat conditions, like availability of food, ample tree cover, and a nearby water source.

Reducing outdoor lighting and noise pollution can also help attract owls to your area. Patience is crucial, as it may take some time for owls to discover and settle in a new nesting box.

What trees do great horned owls prefer for nesting?

Great horned owls tend to favor large, mature trees with sturdy branches for nesting.

They often choose trees like oaks, pines, and cottonwoods, depending on the region and availability. These trees provide the necessary support, height, and cover that great horned owls require for a secure and successful nesting site.

Hear a Great Horned Owl Hooting

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