I follow a blog written by a Jackson, WY-based photographer. Frequently, he posts pictures of Great Horned Owls. I have wanted to get some good photographs of these large owls, so I made a mental note to look for the owls on my next trip to the Jackson area. But it turns out that I have been driving right by Great Horned Owls for months without realizing it.
Great Horned Owls are listed as abundant (widespread, easily found) in the Point Reyes bird checklist. How did I miss them for so long? By not looking in the right places. I attended a Marin Audubon birding field trip a couple of weeks ago and numerous owls were pointed out to me. Once I knew where to look, spotting them became a lot easier.
Great Horned Owls regularly roost in the gnarled old Monterey Cypress trees at the Historic B Ranch (the Mendoza Ranch). Now I frequently see them on my daily commute.
Here are a few quick facts about Great Horned Owls. Their eyes are immobile in their sockets, meaning they must turn their heads in the direction they wish to see. They can easily rotate their heads with a 270-degree spin range.
The tufts of feathers on top of their heads are not ears. The ears are located asymmetrically on the side of the head, allowing them to pinpoint the direction of sound. One opening is higher and one is lower to aid in locating prey at night. Because of the difference in the location of the openings, an owl will hear a sound at two slightly different times. The owl uses that very small difference – a 30 millionth of a second, in some cases – to figure out the “left/right” location of its prey.
They move their heads left and right, up and down, triangulating the exact location of their prey.