Great Horned Owl In Phragmites

I realize that Great Horned Owls have the most extensive range of any American Owl but this one still surprised me a little.



1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II US, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed the bird about six weeks ago at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. This was the first time I’d ever encountered a GHO in wetlands and I suspect it was hunting for waterfowl in this type of habitat even though their diet normally consists of 90% mammals and only 10% birds. It was also unusual to find this species so active during daylight.

But one of the reasons these owls are so successful is their flexibility in both habitat types and prey size – they’re known to take birds as large as herons. Cornell has documented an attack (several of them actually) by a GHO on a nesting Great Blue Heron and I thought some readers might be interested in watching it – here’s the link. The attacks occurred in semi-darkness but what happens is clearly obvious, both times.

Great Horned Owls average less than half the size (by weight – 3.1 lbs vs 6.4 lbs) of Great Blue Herons so these attacks demonstrate why the GHO is often referred to as “the tiger of the sky”.



PS – for those who didn’t see my comment late last night on yesterday’s post regarding my visit with my daughter Shannon I include it below. I do so because I know many of my readers are concerned about and interested in her progress after her injury.

“We all had a wonderful reunion today! Shannon’s perky, cheeky personality is intact and so are nearly all of her mental functions. Her main problem is retrieving certain words to match the memories, both short and long-term. It’s complicated – the memories and the words are both there but matching them up can be an occasional problem.

She has a wonderful attitude, knows her limitations, works hard (very hard) at correcting them and she continues to improve. And without exception she’s cheerful through it all and knows very well how lucky she is to have even survived. Given the situation I couldn’t ask for more.

I love that kid…”


20 comments to Great Horned Owl In Phragmites

  • wendy chapman

    I am happy for all of you. Life is precious and Shannon’s spirit and determination are inspiring. I know you must have been so anxious and heartsick and now relieved and filled with joy. On a different note we once had an experience with our cat and a hawk. The cat was a light weight throughout her lucky life. We we eating breakfast when through the patio window we saw her being lifted into the air over a field behind our house. The hawk managed to reach about fifteen feet in the air when it dropped her and landed nearby. We rescued her and the hawk recovered from its exhaustion. I shortly afterward stopped allowing our cals outside for the protection of birds and in her case – herself.

  • Great Horned Owl are amazing birds. One year locally we had a GHO take over an old osprey nest in a wildlife refuge. The refuge is in a mixed environment area, it contains wetlands, fields, and is right on the bay where 2 rivers come together. I never saw the owl hunting, but it had the opportunity for just about anything it wanted, given the environment. We were able to watch it fledge 2 or 3 young, which was a great experience. Beautiful fluffy young owls.

    Great to hear about your daughter! I hope you continue to spend quality time with her, and provide updates once in a while on how she’s doing. Things like that bring everything else into context.

  • Marty K

    Wonderful photo and even better news about Shannon! 🙂

    (Been “oohing and aahing” over your fabulous photographs for some months now. I’m learning so much and I love it! I’m a former HS biology/anatomy teacher.)

  • Charlotte Norton

    Wonderful shot Ron9!


  • Susan Stone

    So delighted that you have had a good reunion with Shannon. It sounds like she is doing amazingly well, far better than I might have expected, from what I’ve seen with TBIs. The GHO is gorgeous and the video link was fascinating.

  • Linda Chowns

    Wonderful news about Shannon! It seems that her sense of humor, tenacity, inner strength and determination will serve her well. She is very wise to understand, find faith, and trust in her body’s innate wisdom to continue to heal her. Enjoy your visit!

  • Owls AND continuing good news about Shannon! Colour me happy.

  • April Olson

    Shannon’s recovery it wonderful news. The brain is amazing. I took mine for granted until I had a small stroke this past May. I still have some memory loss of the incident but other than that I was lucky and have no long term effects.

    Beautiful owl, maybe it has found less competition in an unusual habitat for GHO.

  • Patty Chadwick

    Shannon above birds! That she’s perky, cheerful and,it seems, as feisty as her adoring father, beats even a Great Horned Owl for me (and you probably know how much I love that bird)!!!

  • Dick Harlow

    Great news on Shannon!!

    Very nice shot Ron. I have never seen them near a marsh either, except a nest in a woodland edge maybe a quarter mile from saltwater. However, I’m not surprised, for I’m confident if Snowy’s are known to take a duck in the water a Great Horned Owl probably would hunt along the shore and do the same if the opportunity presented itself.

  • Judy Gusick

    Beautiful photo! I know they haul pheasants around here with apparent ease. Shannon sounds wonderful and it’s amazing she survived that let alone with minimal issues! 🙂

    • Judy, they tend to be so nocturnal I’ve never seen one with fresh prey (though the bottoms of the granary cutouts where they roost on the Montana family farm are often soaked with “gopher” blood…)