Bald Eagle vs Great Horned Owl: Who’s Winning?

by Jon D. B.

It’s a bird of prey battle to the death: Who wins to hunt another day when the U.S. symbol of power, the bald eagle, takes on North America’s largest owl, the great horned owl?

There’s no raptor more famous than the bald eagle. These immense, incredible predators are synonymous with America, having become one of our country’s greatest conservation success stories. And it’s no secret why the founding fathers chose this majestic beast as our national symbol. With some females standing over 3-feet-tall, only the golden eagle outranks the baldies on our vast continent.

But there’s a competitor in the dense forests. North America’s largest owl species, the great horned owl, shares much of the same territory as the bald eagle. And each of these titanic birds of prey are both capable of snatching prey four times their own weight straight off the ground. But what happens when they square off against one another?

The Combatants: Bald Eagle vs Great Horned Owl

Bald EagleGreat Horned Owl
Max Wingspan: 5 feetMax Wingspan: 8 feet
Max Height: 2+ feetMax Height: 3+ feet
Max Weight: 4+ poundsMax Weight: 15+ pounds
Attributes: Razor-sharp talons and beak, silent flight, immense talon & grip strengthAttributes: Razor sharp talons and beak, immense proportionate strength, hefty musculature
Photo credit: Getty Images archives, Outsider)

At first glance, the bald eagle has a distinct size advantage, but the majority of average sized bald eagles are closer in size to the smaller owls. Regardless, bald eagles will actively hunt great horned owls in the wild, seeing them as a direct threat to their territory and offspring. And for good reason, as great horned owls will bludgeon mating eagle couples and consume their chicks if they can; a sight you can see for yourself below.

How very Jurassic Park. Each of those hits hurts, too, and is aided by the owl’s secret weapon: silent flight.

Completely silent, undetectable flight, as a matter of fact. The feathers of an owl are structured as to not create a single sound when flapping or using their wings. It makes these nocturnal predators undetectable in the air; and a threat bald eagles often never see coming.

Silent or not, all birds are built light with hollow bones to enable flight. But what both raptors lack in bone density they make up for with incredible musculature.

Many raptors make their killing blows by using their own weight to bludgeon their prey to death against the ground upon impact. Weighing three-times what a great horned owl can, it goes without saying that the baldie has the upper hand if they catch a great horned owl off-guard in turn.

Speaking of hands, check out those talons. Made for killing, the toes of each species are equipped with razor-sharp claws that grip and tear into the flesh of their prey. But you can’t carry off a meal on sharpness alone.

Deadly PSI: It’s All in the Talons… Until the Bald Eagle Plays the Beak Card

Fascinatingly, both species are equally matched in this area. Despite a big difference in size, both bald eagles and great horned owls have been measured exerting over 400 PSI (pounds per square inch) with their talon grip. That’s well-over the average bite strength of a large domestic dog – and ten times the grip strength of a peak human athlete.

In short: if these two get ahold of each other, there’s no breaking free. It becomes a battle to the death. And when it does, the eagle’s immense, razor-sharp beak is what claims victory.

Great horned owls have impressive beaks in their own right. But they don’t hold a candle to the much larger maw of a bald eagle. These raptors use their 3-inch beaks to tear apart and consume their prey with great strength; which is exactly how the owl meets its end.

Incredibly, a photographer was able to capture this very scenario as it unfolded on a Parksville golf course. And as predicted, the bald eagle takes the ultimate victory – making a meal out of the great horned owl:

What a finisher.

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