Randy Weinstein took this photo in Stallion Springs of a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) perched on an oak limb. Great Horned Owls are one of the most widespread and frequently encountered owl species in the Tehachapi Mountains, along with the smaller Barn Owls (Tyto alba). There are nine different owl species that have been sighted in our area, but you'll mostly see (or hear) Great Horns or Barn Owls.
The upright tufts that give these owls their common name are neither horns nor ears, and have nothing to do with hearing. They are simply made of feathers, and can be raised or lowered. These tufts are officially known as "plumicorns" from the Latin words "pluma" meaning “feather” and "cornu" meaning “horn” (yes, also the source of the word unicorn).
These plumicorns can be thought of as similar to our eyebrows -- providing a source of expression. In the case of Great Horned Owls, the emotion being expressed is often aggression, for these fearless hunters are nicknamed Tiger Owls for their ferocity and somewhat striped appearance.
Their ear tufts can be raised to make them look bigger and more intimidating, and they can also help a Great Horned Owl blend in with their surrounding perch but giving them a more cryptic silhouette.
Great Horns vary in color depending upon where they live, but their coloration tends to be a basic mottled gray-brown, which is perfect for blending in with the bark of oak trees, which is where they typically roost and nest in the Tehachapi Mountains.
Great Horned Owls are the source of the "hoo-HOO-hoo-hoo" call often heard at night.
NATURAL SIGHTINGS is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, you may submit it to the Tehachapi News for possible publication. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.