Discover the Largest Owl in Florida and Its 5-Foot Wingspan

Written by Mike Edmisten
Updated: May 24, 2023
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The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has documented the different owl species found in the Sunshine State. Florida is home to five resident (year-round) owl species and one migratory species (the short-eared owl). 

Florida’s resident owls include the burrowing owl, eastern screech owl, barn owl, barred owl, and the largest and most fearsome of all, the great horned owl (Bubo virginianus).

The Great Horned Owl


The great horned owl is the largest bird of prey in the Americas. This owl typically measures 18-25 inches tall and weighs 2.5-3.5 pounds. The impressive wingspan of a mature great horned owl can measure from three to five feet across.

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The flying great horned owl is in northern Ontario, canada
The great horned owl has a massive wingspan of up to five feet.

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The great horned owl population is stable. Therefore, it is classified as a species of Least Concern.

The great horned owl is the most widespread of the true owls. This raptor’s native range is massive, covering the entire continental United States. Its northern home covers much of Canada and Alaska. The owl’s southern range covers all of Mexico, Central America, and into South America. This owl is one of the most adaptable animals in the world. It is right at home in a desert, the tropics, a swamp, or the Arctic! It also is perfectly at home in suburban neighborhoods and parks. As long as prey is available, the great horned owl can live nearly anywhere. 

The great horned owl can be found throughout Florida, from the Panhandle to the southern tip of the peninsula. While rare, there have even been sightings in the Florida Keys, such as the owl that was spotted in Long Key State Park.

The great horned owl needs access to both a wooded habitat for nesting and roosting, as well as open areas to hunt. They aren’t the neatest housekeepers. Great horned owl nests, which are usually found in tall trees, often appear messy and snarled.

A trio of Juvenile Great Horned Owls With their Mother
The rather messy nests of great horned owls can normally be found in tall trees.



The great horned owl features mottled grayish-brown plumage. It has a facial disc of gray or reddish-brown and a white throat patch. However, its most recognizable feature is the signature tufts of feathers on both sides of its head. These feathers resemble horns, which gave rise to the owl’s name.

great horned owl
The great horned owl may be the most instantly recognizable of all the owls.



The owl has a variety of vocalizations. Even if you don’t see the owl, you may hear its spooky sounds. The owl can vocalize with screeches, growls, shrieks, and squawks. Its most well-known vocalization is a series of low-pitched hoots, which is why it is sometimes known as the hoot owl.

Bird of Prey

The great horned owl is considered the most dangerous predatory bird in North America. Prey animals who are targeted by this owl have little chance of survival.

Unlike many other raptors who take a flight to search for food, the great horned owl usually remains perched in a tree or other high location. The owl has large eyes, giving it exceptional eyesight in low-light conditions. The owl’s eyes are so large that they cannot move from side to side. Instead, the owl must turn its head to survey the landscape. It can turn its head up to 270°. That is 75% of a full 360° circle!

The great-horned owl also has a strong sense of hearing. For example, it can hear a mouse from 75 feet away! These heightened senses make the owl a highly efficient and deadly nocturnal predator. The owl is so lethal to its prey that it has been nicknamed the “tiger of the air” or the “tiger owl.”

When a great horned owl zeroes in on its quarry from its perch, it takes flight. The fringed feathers on the owl’s massive wings allow it to fly in virtual silence.

The owl swoops down to its unsuspecting prey and latches on with its large talons. The great horned owl has crushing grip strength in its talons, measuring from 200-500 pounds per square inch. That is comparable to the grip strength of a bald eagle and is ten times strong than a human hand. When a great horned owl grabs its prey, the prey animal’s spine is usually severed, and death comes instantly. This “tiger of the air” is a stone-cold killer!

Great Horned Owl's are capable of turning their heads totally around to look over their back.
The great-horned owl can turn its head up to 270°.



The great-horned owl is certainly not a picky eater. On the contrary, it has the most diverse diet of any raptor in North America. The great horned owl’s diet consists of more than 200 mammal species and 300 bird species.

The owl preys on small mammals such as rodents, bats, rabbits, shrews, groundhogs, raccoons, squirrels, and even skunks. It is the only animal to include skunks in its regular diet. It will also eat carrion. Did we mention the great horned owl is not a picky eater?

Along with mammals, the owl will also prey on frogs, snakes, invertebrates, insects, fish, and birds, including other owls. 

There has been conflict between the great horned owl and humans, especially on farms. The owl has been known to prey on poultry. However, the owl is also essential to limit the rodent population. Mice and rats can spoil and otherwise destroy crops. Owls, such as the great horned owl, help control rodent populations.

This juvenile Great Horned Owl hunted down a ground squirrel and brought it back up to a tree branch where he now stands with the squirrel.
The great horned owl is a lethal predator.


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The great horned owl has the largest wingspan of any North American owl.
The great horned owl has the largest wingspan of any North American owl.

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About the Author

A freelance writer in Cincinnati, OH, Mike is passionate about the natural world. He, his wife, and their two sons love the outdoors, especially camping and exploring US National Parks. A former pastor, he also writes faith-based content to encourage and inspire. And, for reasons inexplicable, Mike allows Cincinnati sports teams to break his heart every year.

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