Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Great Horned Owl - Bubo virginianus
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General Comments This is the largest of the breeding owls in the state, and as with the Eastern Screech-Owl, the Great Horned Owl nests in all 100 counties. The species still fares well in the presence of man, though much habitat has been lost to development. This nocturnal species favors open to medium-growth pine forests, or mixed forests, preferably in dry to mesic areas, leaving the wetlands to the Barred Owl; thus, it is the nocturnal counterpart of the Red-tailed Hawk. As with the hawk, most territories contain extensive fields, and owls can sometimes be seen at dusk perched on stubs, bare trees, or poles in fields. Despite their proclivity toward drier areas, Great Horned Owls are often found in pine stands adjacent to tidal marshes and other such wetlands. It appears to be completely non-migratory.
Breeding Status Breeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S5
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Permanent resident. Generally fairly common across the province, both along the coast and inland to the Fall Line. Peak counts: 34, Roanoke Rapids CBC, 1 Jan 1984.
Piedmont Permanent resident. Uncommon to fairly common across the province. Peak counts:
Mountains Permanent resident. Uncommon over most of the province, but perhaps fairly common in some areas. Ranges up to about 5,000 feet. Peak counts:
Finding Tips Great Horned Owls call mainly during the colder months, mostly from Nov or Dec into Mar. At this time, one can often hear them calling at twilight, especially near dawn. They call less frequently in the middle of the night. A pair will often duet, with the high-pitched female's call alternating with the low-pitched male's call. To see a Great Horned, your best bet is to look during twilight conditions around fields, clearcuts, and other open areas. The owls often perch in tall dead trees, and they may also perch on telephone poles. You can see their silhouette, and then spotlight them with a flashlight.
Attribution LeGrand[2012-07-11], LeGrand[2011-12-07], LeGrand[2011-05-21]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.
NC Breeding Season Map
Map depicts assumed breeding season abundance for the species.
NA Maps
(source NatureServe)

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
NOTE: The maps for birds represent the breeding status by state and province. In some jurisdictions, the subnational statuses for common species have not been assessed and the status is shown as not-assessed (SNR). In some jurisdictions, the subnational status refers to the status as a non-breeder; these errors will be corrected in future versions of these maps. A species is not shown in a jurisdiction if it is not known to breed in the jurisdiction or if it occurs only accidentally or casually in the jurisdiction. Thus, the species may occur in a jurisdiction as a seasonal non-breeding resident or as a migratory transient but this will not be indicated on these maps. See other maps on this web site that depict the Western Hemisphere ranges of these species at all seasons of the year.
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NN, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY
Canada AB, BC, LB, MB, NB, NF, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at

Range Map Compilers: NatureServe, 2002; WILDSPACETM 2002; WWF-US, 2000