Georgia Owls: Discover the Eight Species Found in the Empire State of the South

Yellow and white owl

Last Updated: May 1, 2021

Georgia prides itself as a safe haven to four native species of owls. Among them is one of the biggest owls in the world, which also happens to be a common sight in the state.

However…

Georgia also houses rarer species that only visit in small numbers during winter. Some only come during their irruptive years, which can be long years to wait.

Today, we’ll briefly identify all the owls in GA, with pictures to leave a striking image of each in your mind. 

Help An Owl Breed Today

If you live close to woods, you could change a lot by putting up nest boxes for owls before mating season.

Owls struggle to occupy suitable nest sites each year. Numbers drastically reduce from human activities like logging and land clearing.

You'll do great good to owls (other birds and animals) with a nest box. Owls particularly love nesting in cavities (or boxes) 10 to 30 feet off the ground. Be careful.

The 8 Types Of Owls In Georgia (With Pictures)

1. Barn Owl

White and orange brown owl

  • Length: 12.6 to 15.8 inches
  • Wingspan: 39.4 to 49.2 inches
  • Weight: 400 to 700 grams

Barn owls are one of the largest owls in Georgia, third behind barred owls and the tiger owls. They are the "big three of owls" native to Georgia.

It's no surprise they are one of the most widespread birds in the world. Size aside, barn owls are adaptive birds and common across the state all year. You can even see these owls in Midtown Atlanta.

They live abundantly in North Georgia, close to hay farms and agricultural fields or in marshes along the coast, thinning down as they near the forestal regions.

“Skrrrrr skrr” you’d hear this Georgia owl sound across a field, unlike the hooting of most owls.

During the day, you can easily distinguish their white face and pale buff plumage. Spot them at night, and they look like a whitely phantom (color of underwings and face) in flight.

2. Great Horned Owl

Brown and white owl in the forest

  • Length: 18. 1 to 24.8 inches
  • Wingspan: 39.8 to 57.1 inches
  • Weight: 910 to 2500 grams

"Hoo-hoo-hooo hoo hoo."

The largest of them all, most dangerous, great-horned owls, hoot from trees all over Georgia. These large owls find it easy to dominate and abound almost anywhere in the state - evergreen forests, swamps, grasslands, you name it.

Great horned owls adjust fine to any habitat they're in, maybe even like dictators. It's soft work for one of these birds to displace another nesting raptor and take over its territory if it puts up a fight.

It's also no wonder they are popular throughout North America as a whole.

As it's also called, the Tiger owl is built as an apex predator not just for its sheer size. Also, it has soft feathers that grant it silent flight to catch prey off guard.

The fluffy feathers of great horned owls in Georgia make it possible for them to nest in winter, consequently staying year-round.


3. Eastern Screech-Owl

small blue and gray owl

  • Length: 6.3 to 9.8 inches
  • Wingspan: 121 to 244 grams
  • Weight: 18.9 to 24 inches

Georgia's most common and smallest owl can be found in both rural and suburban areas. Anywhere, as long there are a few matured trees to roost and food (rats and rodents).

Eastern screech-owls adjust by keeping small territories in the cities, covering 10 to 15 acres - only means higher chances of spotting the bird.

Eastern screech owls have two predominant colors (reddish-brown and gray), but those in Georgia appear gray.

The plumage is a complex pattern of bands and spots that likens them to tree barks. If you aren't sharp-eyed, forget spotting one in its tree cavity, even if you were staring at it.

Like great horned owls, they have ear tufts like horns and bright yellow eyes that give them a mean look. But these miniature great horned owls make up for what they lack in size with world-class camouflage.

Your best chance would be to listen for their trilling whinny calls. Also, when a group of songbirds gets excited over something in a tree, it's likely because of an eastern screech-owl.


4. Barred Owl

Gray Barred owl

  • Length: 16.9 to 19.7 inches 
  • Wingspan: 39 to 43 inches 
  • Weight: 470 to 1050 grams

"Who cooks for? Who cooks for you all?"

None of the owls in Georgia sounds like the barred owl. Its shrill hoot carries volume in the woods and is so easy to imitate (try it, see if it'd notice you).

When I actually see one hooting, it looks like John Lennon (RIP) performing live in an overcoat.

Barred owls have large facial discs and no ear tufts, which set them apart. You can be sure it's one if the plumage is a streak of brown and white.

Barred owls are at home in forested swamps, but you don't have to visit the Okefenokee swamps to see these owls in Georgia.

The "who cooks for you" crooners are at home in suburbs and second-growth forests all across the state.

It's no surprise you may lure or see one by playing a recording or, sadly, roadkill on interstate highways.

If you're lucky to find one in your neighborhood, it will stay year-round.


5. Burrowing Owl

white and brown owl

  • Length: 7.5 to 9.8 inches
  • Wingspan: 21 inches
  • Weight: 150 grams

Burrowing owls are birds of the west and rarely ever seen in Georgia.

You may be lucky to still meet Charlie, a burrowing owl who overwinter in Miller County, GA. The last burrowing owl in the state before Charlie was seen in the 1990s.

Burrowing owls are the only owl species known to roost underground.

They depend on burrows dug by prairie dogs, badgers, which are native to the west. But Florida subspecies would go as far as digging their own burrows.

Plus, their subterranean behavior makes them diurnal in deserts and open grasslands. Most times, the bird is hunting insects and supplementing with small animals.

Consequently, they've adapted to staying in golf courses and airport lands.

They are lanky, small-sized owls and are not vocal. Burrowing owls have a tiny two-note call like the quail's and coo, scream, and warble like most owls do.


6. Short-Eared Owl

Brown and white owl with short ears

  • Length: 13.4 16.9 inches
  • Wingspan: 33.5 40.5 inches
  • Weight: 206 to 475 grams

Georgia only welcomes non-breeding varieties of these owls, which are only a small number yearly.

Short-eared owls have been spotted sparsely across the state from Atlanta down to Brunswick in Georgia.

Short-eared owls mostly have mottled brown plumage with buff or white underparts. But their face is perhaps their most unique physical feature.

They have piercing yellow eyes with a black outline resembling fake scary eyelashes - it feels like staring into a void sometimes.

The short "ear" tufts of short-eared owls are only visible when the bird wants to intimidate. Most times, the feathers are flattened on the head.

They are one of the few owls that hunt in broad daylight, but remarkably, at night as well.

They are monogamous owls that stay with their mates for life.

Short-eared owls nest on the ground in grassland or tundra environments. Moreover, the social bond of these species is strong enough for non-mates to roost communally in some winter months.


7. Northern Saw-Whet Owl

white and light brown owl

  • Length: 7.1 to 8.3 inches
  • Wingspan: 16.5 to 18.9 inches
  • Weight: 65 to 151 grams

The northern saw-whet owl is considered the cutest by many birders. I'm of the same opinion.

Typically, they are native to the evergreen forests of the north and in Canada. But they do wander into Georgia during irruption years.

Northern saw-whet owls are mottled brown, with fewer white patches than the barred owl. But they do have closely patterned underwings.

In addition to being minuscule, their large rounded heads and bulgy yellow eyes give them a cute appearance.

These adorable owls have a distinctive " too-too-too" call. Besides, northern saw-whets are strictly nocturnal, and you may only hear this tune at night.


8. Snowy Owl

White spotted owl

  • Length: 20 to 27.9 inches
  • Wingspan: 49.6 to 57.1 inches
  • Weight: 1600 to 2950 grams

Snowy owls would easily be the largest in Georgia where they are regular visitors. It's something of a miracle, perhaps a major achievement for a birder who spots one in the state.

These pristine owls are active during the day, hovering over the endless white expanse of the arctic. Oh, it's daylight 24/7 in the Arctic Circle, home of snowy owls. So, technically, they are diurnal.

Adult male snowy owls can be pure white, like Harry Potter's Hedwig, while females spot deeper brown or white markings.

When it's winter in Georgia, scan shorelines of lakes, on the beach, agricultural fields, airports, and grasslands. You'll likely find snowy owls on the ground since they are used to the treeless arctic tundra, where they breed.

Don't expect these birds to come to your nest box. They breed their clutch on the ground, like chickens.

Answering FAQs About Owls in Georgia

Do Owls Live in Georgia?

Five owls are native to Georgia and call it home for most of the year. They include the great horned owl, eastern screech owl, barn owl, and barred owl.

The short-eared Owl comes down to winter in Georgia from states far north.

Well, the other owls that are known to winter here; northern saw-whet, burrowing, and snowy Owl, only come in times of food shortage - this could be anywhere from 2 to 8 years. 

Is it Legal to Keep Owls as Pets in Georgia?

No, you can't keep an owl as a pet in Georgia. Only trained and licensed individuals can keep them for educational purposes, rehab, or falconry.

As they are protected by federal and state laws, capturing one without a special permit could attract a jail term or fines up to $15,000. 

What is the Biggest Owl in Georgia?

The great horned owl is the largest owl in Georgia. It's also one of the more popular owls to find in the state.

Its large size and biological wiring make hunting easy for it in any habitat. Great horned owls prey on scorpions but also mammals as large as a rabbit. An adult has a wingspan of almost 5 feet and weighs over 5 pounds.

Watch as a great horned owl hunt for its prey in the middle of the night:

Wrapping Up 

It's easy to tick off a Georgia owls identification checklist with great success after a few months.

Out of eight owls likely to be found in the state, you'd most certainly find the four owls native to Georgia - Great horned owl, eastern screech owl, barn owl, and barred owl.

The rest of the species are considered a rare find in the state. With a bit of commitment and luck, you could find the short-eared and burrowing owl, though.

How many and which of these Georgia owls have you found or discovered their presence at your residence? 

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