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Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

Species Code: BUVI

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Breeding Range Map
The green area shows the predicted habitats for breeding only.
© NatureMapping Program

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Predicted breeding range

= Core Habitat
= Marginal Habitat


Great Horned Owl

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Breeding Range Map
The green area shows the predicted habitats for breeding only. The habitats were identified using 1991 satellite imagery, Breeding Bird Atlas (BBA), other datasets and experts throughout the state, as part of the Washington Gap Analysis Project. Habitats used during non-breeding months and migratory rest-stops were not mapped.

NatureMapping observations map   Map with Breeding Bird Atlas records
Observations | Historic Gap points


This species is common and widespread in almost all habitats throughout the state. Though they are not normally found in large tracts of lowland mature rain forest, Alpine/Parkland tundra/rock/ice, or urban areas, they are found in virtually every other habitat in Washington. They were elevationally distributed from the coastline up to the Cascade crest, with records from Snoqualmie Pass, the slopes of Mount Rainier to about 5000 feet, and in the Okanogan Highlands region to 5500 feet at Rogers Lake.

habitat 110 picture habitat 522 picture habitat 312 picture

Good habitat in the core areas of use included all habitats below the Alpine/Parkland zone, except late-seral forests in west-side zones, mid- to high-density development, bare ground, and estuarine mudflats. Late-seral conifer forests in west-side zones were included as adequate habitat.

Two subspecies breed in Washington, B. v. saturatus of western Washington and B. v. lagophonus of eastern Washington. They can be found at high elevations, though generally not at or above the treeline. Several of these birds have been found nesting in cliffs along the Columbia River, a phenomenon also noted throughout the Columbia Basin where there are suitable cliffs, such as on the Snake River, along the old Vantage Highway, and along lower Crab Creek. Additionally, this species will utilize old barns and buildings where available. An unusual ground nest was reported from Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 1957. The Great Horned Owl is the "king" of owls, opportunistically preying on other owl species and taking over their nests. It prefers edge habitats, and as Washington's forested areas become increasingly fragmented, Great Horned Owls penetrate farther into remnant old-growth forests, where they may prey upon Spotted Owls. In eastern Washington, they displace nesting Barn Owls in old buildings and barns. Great Horned Owls are unspecialized carnivores. Though they prefer smaller mammals and birds, they have been known to attempt to kill turkeys and porcupines, and will also prey upon reptiles and amphibians, and even fish and small insects.

Translated from the Washington Gap Analysis Bird Volume by Uchenna Bright
Text edited by Gussie Litwer
Map by Dave Lester