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8 Species of Owls In Ohio (Guess Who's the King?)

Brown and white owl in the forest

Ohio welcomes almost eight owls yearly, with four being permanent residents.


While nearly half of these owls only come in winter, most of them are in abundance in the state - when they arrive.

The largest owl you'd ever see in Ohio, the snowy owl happens to be the Buckeye state's rarest species.

At the heart of it all, you can rest assured you'd see the king almost anywhere you're in the state.

Who's the king?

You'd know better soon enough as well as all Ohio owl species, with pictures and where you can find them in the state.

Read also: Ohio Birds - the full list

Let's get to it.

The 8-Bird List of Ohio Owls (With Pictures)

1. Great Horned Owl

  • owl with long ears and yellow eyesLength: 18.1 to 24 inches
  • Wingspan: 39.8 to 57.1 inches
  • Weight: 910 to 2500 grams

The great horned owl is the supreme avian ruler of the woods in Ohio - the king.

As a result of their size and status, they are well-established all over the state. Great horned owls can be seen in most parts of the state year-round.

Great horned owls dominate the owl ecosystem in Ohio with ferocity. Many times, they would attack or even kill raptors in their territory.

These birds adapt their diet to anywhere they find themselves. Not only would they eat mice, frogs but rabbits and other owls.

Unsurprisingly, they are the greatest predators of other owls native to Ohio.

Great horned owls don't really have horns. What they have are two large ear tufts (feathers) on the top of the head. At times, they are called cat owls for this reason. Moreover, they are called tiger owls because of their viciousness.

The best spot to see great horned owls in Ohio is at the Helen Layer Rhododendron Garden.

Listen for their famous "hoo-HOO hoo hoo" hooting tune, and you might find one staring back at you, maybe.

2. Barred Owl

  • Gray Barred owlLength: 16.9 to 19.7 inches
  • Wingspan: 39 to 43.3 inches
  • Weight: 470 to 1050 grams

Barred owls can be easily seen in most of the state.

They are medium-sized - large for an owl, though - birds who favor living in dense forests. And Ohio has lots of these woodlots barred owls prefer.

Barred owls are particularly prevalent within southern and eastern counties.

But they are less common in strip-mined counties like Belmont, Guernsey, Harrison, and Tuscarawas counties. If you live in the north-central, especially counties like Fayette, Clark, and Champaign, you may not see any barred owls.

If you're within the glaciated plateau area, barred owls are everywhere! Well, except in big cities like Chillicothe and East Liverpool.

The good thing is barred owls respond well to imitations of their calls.

What's even better, barred owls have a unique, fun call that's easy to imitate. It goes, "who cooks for you? … who cooks for you all?" but in the owl language of hooting.

Overall, you can go owling in Ohio and be sure to find a barred owl with ease. They abound in mesic forests where they won't encounter great horned owls and northeast Ohio swamp forests.

3. Eastern Screech-owl

  • small blue and gray owlLength: 6.3 to 9.8 inches
  • Wingspan: 18.9 to 24 inches
  • Weight: 121 to 244 grams

Eastern Screech-owls hold double awards in Ohio - for smallest (native) and most common owls.

These owls are almost everywhere you can find trees. They'd occupy evergreen forests but also pilferage bustling cities like Toledo and Columbus, in particular.

Eastern Screech-owls are strictly nocturnal and hard to see even in broad daylight. They've mastered camouflage by blending their muffled gray plumage into matching tree cavities.

With their ear tufts and yellow eyes, they look like miniature great horned owls.

These strictly nocturnal birds may be good at hiding, but their inquisitive nature gets the better of them. You can lure one out even with a poor mimicry of their call, as long as it's within earshot.

Eastern Screech-owls don't screech but hoot a legendary whinny call. You've probably heard one call close to you but thought it was far away. That's because they are ventriloquial.

If you've noticed these miniature tufted predators in your neighborhood, you can get some to roost in a nest box.

These Screech-owls have two color morphs: gray and red. You are likely to come across the gray varieties in the state.

4. Long-Eared Owl

  • Brown owl with big eyes and long earsLength: 13.8 to 15.8 inches
  • Wingspan: 35.4 to 39.4 inches
  • Weight: 220 to 435 grams

Long-eared owls are the biggest visitors and travelers into Ohio. They only come to the state in winter or stop a little while migrating down south. Canada and northern US states are their main breeding range.

Breeding range or not, long-eared owls are highly secretive. Such that their presence is poorly accounted for even in their range.

After reading surveys and research on long-eared owls in the state, it's safe to say they are the most difficult owls to spot in Ohio. As at the turn of the century, only five were recorded summering here.

Nevertheless, they always come in winter, particularly "flourishing" in the northern half of the buckeye state. In fact, a roost of twenty long-eareds was once seen along a busy trail in northwestern Ohio.

Oh, long-eared owls, unlike most owls, are social and roost communally, especially in winter.

One reliable place to see long-eared owls in Ohio during winter is at the 9,000-acre Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, on its pine plantation.

Exhaustingly, they also have the most complex vocal sounds among owls. But most would give one or more long "hooo's."

Not to forget. These owls always look surprised thanks to a narrow face and long ear tufts. Sometimes, one may strike you looking like a cat or even a giant wasp.

5. Barn Owl

  • White and orange brown owlLength: 12.6 to 15.8 inches
  • Wingspan: 39.4 to 49.2 inches
  • Weight: 400 to 700 grams

For the most widespread owl species globally, its unfortunate barn owls are threatened in Ohio. Oddly enough, they were the most abundant Ohio owl species in the 1930s, second only to eastern Screech-owls.

But with the use of DDT pesticides on their favorite meal, meadow voles, by farmers and grassland clearing in the state, their numbers dwindled.

Barn owls are quite unique. For one, they have a characteristic heart-shaped face and a downward-facing bill.

Plus, they sound different than most owls, actually ghostly and scary. Barn owls screech loudly at night.

6. Northern Saw-Whet Owl

  • white and light brown owlLength: 7.1 to 8.3 inches
  • Wingspan: 16.5 to 18.9 inches
  • Weight: 65 to 151 grams

Remember how I said Eastern screen-owls are the smallest owls native to Ohio? Saw-whets are a lot smaller - the smallest you'd probably ever see in the state - and cuter!

These tiny owls look cute because of their oversized head and enormous eyes. Like cats, they even enjoy when humans pet them and give that "cute and cuddly" look.

Like most owls, the saw-whet owl remains an effective predator with its oversized head, ears, and talons. Voles are their primary prey.

Northern saw-whet owls migrate from far north to the gulf coast of Mexico yearly, passing through Ohio.

Some brave birds stay the whole winter living along our lakes. Residents have spotted quite a few of these owls in neighborhoods along Lake Erie such as Lakewood, Euclid, Cleveland, and Edgewater.

Northern saw-whets are "secretive." They migrate at night and roost quietly in the day. So, they are often regarded as rare or uncommon in Ohio.

Well, not until the mid-2000s when hundreds were banded in unexpected habitats through Project Owlet. Since 2004, over 300 saw-whets have been captured and banded in Chillicothe, Ohio alone.

The best place to see them in Ohio is at the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve. It's best to go during the day when these cuties are roosting quietly in pine or fir trees in the area.

Songbirds may mob northern saw-whets they find during the day, forcing it to move, revealing its location.

7. Short-Eared Owl

  • Brown and white owl with short earsLength: 13.4 to 16.9 inches
  • Wingspan: 33.5 to 40.5 inches
  • Weight: 206 to 475 grams

Short-eared owls are winter visitors to Ohio, typically breeding far north in Canada and northern US states.

These owls have short - almost invisible - ear tufts they raise to look intimidating when they are under any threat.

The raptor prefers open grounds, wet meadows, tundras, and grasslands, which happen to be precious commodities in Ohio - barn owls suffer the same fate. But they can be seen in airports, expansive unmowed pastures, strip mines, or golf courses at dusk or dawn when they're active.

Short-eared owls would often perch on the ground to hunt and nest on the ground as well. It's similar to how snowy owls live in the arctic tundra.

Single sightings of these owls during breeding season have been recorded in Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area and Maumee Bay State Park. Since Ohio is at the southernmost of their breeding range, it's "very" rare to see them nesting in Ohio.

The bird's numbers during winter fluctuate with irruption years. If the population of small mammals overflows, expect to see short-eared owls troop in that year.

8. Snowy Owl

  • White spotted owlLength: 20.5 to 27.9 inches
  • Wingspan: 49.6 to 57.1 inches
  • Weight: 1600 to 2950 grams

As you're probably also thinking, snowy owls are a rare occurrence in Ohio. Else, they'd be the largest owls you'd see in Ohio, not the great horned.

These snow-white birds travel down from the arctic tundra in winters when lemmings are scarce. Sometimes only one or two makes it to the state and up to a dozen in some years.

But this year was a good year for Ohio birdwatchers - four snowy owls showed up in Cleveland's Lake Erie waterfront. They can be spotted on breakwalls and marina docks till they return around May. You'd need binoculars to spot them, though, as they blend in perfectly with snow and ice.

By the way, the female snowy owls have more dark markings on their white plumage than males.

If there's news of any in an area, you can listen for their powerful, squawky hoots. This Ohio owl sounds low but can be heard up to seven miles away on the tundra.

Here's a rough recording of what one sounds like: 

Frequently Asked Questions About Ohio Owls

What Is The Largest Owl In Ohio?

The largest owl in Ohio is the Great Horned Owl. The max height of this raptor is stipulated at 24 inches, with a wingspan reaching almost 5 feet. Large female great horned owls may reach a weight of 2500 grams. Adult males are much smaller, sacrificing size for agility to hunt fearlessly. 

How Big Do Owls Get In Ohio?

Ohio has quite a number of big owls, but the great horned owls are the most prominent ones, followed by barred owls. Snowy owls, however, are much larger than both, standing up to 27 inches tall and weighing some 2900 grams (over 6 lbs). The only thing is snowy owls are "extremely" rare in the state.

Are Owls Common In Ohio?

Yes, and owls of Ohio are common across all the OH region. Owls are more widespread in the northern half of Ohio partly because it's the point of entry for migrating owls from Canada and northern US states.

What Kind Of Owls Are In Ohio?

Ohio welcomes the two known families of owls -- Strigidae (true owls) and Tytonidae (Barn owls). The true owls in Ohio are Eastern Screech, Great Horned, Barred, Long-Eared, Short-Eared, Northern Saw-Whet, and Snowy owls.  

When Do Owls Nest In Ohio?

Typically, owls would begin to nest in spring, with great horned owls opening the floor in Ohio. The rest of the owls would often follow suit.

Read Also: Michigan Owl Species

Wrapping Up

So now you know the native owls and rare ones living in Ohio.

Would you head out to find these species in your area? Or have you just started hearing the sound of one in your neighborhood? What beliefs do you have regarding these owls in Ohio? That’d be nice to know in the comments box below!

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