The great horned owl is a large bird, measuring over two feet when fully grown, with a wingspan of five feet. Its coloration helps it camouflage in its woodland habitat, with mottled brown markings including horizontal brown bars that earned the bird the nickname “tiger owl”.
Like all owls, the great horned owl has a facial disc that helps to direct sounds toward the owl's ears, giving them an excellent sense of hearing. The owl’s “horns” are actually groupings of feathers, commonly called ear tufts or plumicorns. The purpose of these tufts is not certain, but it may help owls identify one another, or may be used to help them find mates.
The great horned owl is closely related to the eagle owl, and they look very similar. Its closest relative in North America is the snowy owl.