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12 Owls in Texas: Discover More Than Their Spooky Side

Written by Garrett Hayes

Last updated on Apr 26th, 2024
Barn Owl - Featured image Texas Owls

There are actually about seventeen owls in Texas as a whole.

Many of these innocently spooky, but cute raptors only prey in certain parts of the Lone Star state, while some are widespread.

This gets interesting...

Of all of the owl species in Texas, eleven are common to uncommon visitors you'd have luck finding with some dedication.

Actually, you'd only have luck seeing the Great Horned Owl and the Eastern Screech Owl, maybe a couple of other species if you aren't willing to adventure.

And, adventure you must if you want to see the many owl species Texas has to offer. Or settle for realistic Texas owls pictures and videos you’d find in abundance online. 

It's Not An Owly Day Everyday

As you probably already know, most owls are nocturnal - active at night - while some hunt only in twilight periods, or even strictly in the day.

Owls do an excellent job of hiding themselves into their roosting sites, cavities or even enveloped in a tree. You should learn some owling ethics, be patient, and attentive to have luck finding any. 

It’s not unsurprising for a birder to miss an owl looking right at him in broad daylight. 

But you can scare them or even risk attack if you stumble into their nest haphazardly.  

Identification Of Realistic Texas Owl Species

The flammulated owl and elf owl are the only rare species in this identification of Texas owls mentioned here, and only the flammulated owl is an uncommon Texas bird species you can have some luck finding.

1. Great Horned Owl

great horned owl

  • Length: 18 to 25 inches
  • Wingspan: 39 to 58 inches
  • Weight: 900 to 2100 grams
  • Range: All over Texas

The famed Great Horned Owl is easily the most widespread in Texas. They are particularly habitual owls in Austin. 

The Great horned owl gets its name from the large ear tuft on its heads.

It's only a skin projection covered in feathers and of no practical use than to look spooky.

You can find them in young interspersed woods or thickets, swamps or deserts, or perched on a telephone pole or tree in the park. You can even attract a breeding pair to your backyard with a nesting box.

They have a talon with an unmatched 28-pound force impact. And a diet for anything that breathes in their territory.

Great horned owls eat small mammals, reptiles, scorpions, frogs, and other birds, including raptors.

They even dare to eat bald eagle chicks behind the back of an equally menacing predator. As long as they are somewhere, they'd find food.

It's no surprise many of these Colorado owl species are everywhere in Texas.

The great horned owl is the author of the stuttering "hoo-h-hoo-hoo" call that has come to be accustomed to owls - only a few owls actually hoot. Moreso, they are quite talkative and would be easy to trace in an area. 

A murder of Crows will mob a great horned owl on sight, injuring and, on rare occasions, kill the raptor. You'd most likely hear this uproar before seeing it. 

2. Eastern Screech Owl

eastern screech owl

  • Length: 6 to 10 inches
  • Wingspan: 18 to 24 inches
  • Weight: 121 to 240 grams
  • Range: Widespread across Texas

The Eastern Screech Owl hasn't a screechy voice but a sweet whinny call. In some tunes, this Texas owl sounds almost like a horse neighing softly.

What's more fascinating about these birds is they're natural camouflagers (if that's a word).

They'd sleep through the day inside tree barks and let their plumage blend in. It's not dramatic like the chameleon’s change of colors, but how they find the right tree to match their feathers.

If you have a sharp vision and spot one on its tree or at night in action, you'd almost mistake it for a Great horned owl. Their sclera is not plain yellow but black and yellow. And a bulging black eye to complete the look.

These birds flourish in suburbs because they have fewer predators compared to the wild. It's not out of the ordinary for screech owls to use nests birdwatchers have put up, even in a metropolis. As a matter of fact, it's why they are such popular Ohio owls in Dallas.

They prey on smaller songbirds, including starlings, and rodents, insects, and worms.

Songbirds, in turn, give up the owl's location during the day for protection and not love for birders. When you hear a commotion on a tree, the birds may be trying to shoo off a screech owl.

3. Barred Owl

barred owl

  • Length: 16 to 20 inches
  • Wingspan: 39 to 43.3 inches
  • Weight: 470 to 1050 grams
  • Range: Seen throughout Texas

Barred owls look like masked humans wearing a mean look because of their rounded heads, all-black eyes, and invisible ear tufts.

It has, yet again, a unique hooting call among owls native to Texas. You can tell there's a barred owl close by when you hear a cackle of "who cook-s for you - who cooks for you all." 

They are predominantly East Texas owls, but you'd be lucky to also find them in popular Southern Texas like San Antonio and Austin.

You'd have a greater chance of hearing or finding them in woods with a river nearby.

They are only active at night and would snooze quietly from dawn to dusk. Sometimes though, they can be heard calling from a tree on a quiet day.

In the nighttime, barred owls hunt small animals with a sweet tooth for rodents.

Barred owls would use a nest box you set up close to their habitat. Be sure to use a guard to protect the eggs from invaders.

4. Barn Owl

barn owl

  • Length 12 to 15 inches
  • Wingspan: 39 to 49 inches
  • Weight: 430 to 650 grams
  • Range: Most of Texas, except forested areas in the East, mountain caps of Trans Pecos

Barn owls are regarded as the most widespread species in the world. That's right, not just among owl species. So it's safe to say you can find them anywhere in Texas and in every corner of the world, except Antarctica. 

In TX, some even call them the white owls in Texas. 

The heart-shaped face of the barn owl is unmistakable when it ventures out in the day.

They have a white face and underwing that make them appear all-white at night. Their predominantly buff-brown and gray upper wing feathers will be concealed by darkness.

Barn owls cruise incredibly low and silently over open grasslands, listening for the movement of potential prey. 

These owls roost and nest in dense trees, tree cavities, and, you guessed it, abandoned barns. Any quiet place with a cavity and freewill would do for these birds.

5. Short-Eared Owl

short eared owl

  • Length: 13 to 17 inches
  • Wingspan: 33 to 41 inches
  • Weight: 206 to 475 grams
  • Range: In open-country lands with a high rodent population

Short-eared owls are winter visitors to Texas. And they are rarely ever seen in urban areas. Plus, their low population in Texas doesn't help.

These raptors are prairie hunters, flying low over the open grassland in search of prey.

They don't hunt at night but rather are crepuscular, meaning they hunt at the brink of dawn and dusk.

It has a unique dark-eyed patch that accentuates its yellow eyeball. It literally looks like the bird is staring you to death. Their short ear tuft is not but bold enough to give their faces a distinct look.

Short-eared owls eat rodents and only multiply in the area if there's food in abundance.

6. Western Screech Owl

western screech owl

  • Length: 8 to 9 inches
  • Wingspan: 21 to 25 inches
  • Weight: 100 to 305 grams
  • Range: Breeds in the Trans Pecos region

The western screech owl is just as elusive as its eastern cousin. They spend the day holed up in tree cavities drilled by woodpeckers. And come out at night to feed.

These birds are small, with a squarish head and small ear tufts. They look as mean as a  banshee because of the dark patches around their eyes.

Coupled with their small size and camouflage ability, you'd likely hear screech owls before seeing them. But they often breed in man-made nest boxes placed in forested backyards. You know they're nearby when you hear a series of tooting calls.

Again, they're deadly predators for their small size, eating anything from worms, rats to larger prey like cottontail rabbits or squirrels and smaller mammals. Even so, they're known to scavenge as well.

7. Burrowing Owl

burrowing owl

  • Length: 7.5 to 10 inches
  • Wingspan: 21 inches
  • Weight: 150 grams
  • Range: Breeds in West and Panhandle areas of Texas

Burrowing owls have brown mottled upperparts and a face that makes them look ruffled. 

They hold the record as the only owls active day and night - not crepuscular, as in, active during twilight periods.

In a cliche fashion, burrowing owls live in open areas such as grasslands, deserts, or even airports, and have a sandy plumage to match their habitat. 

They stay close to prairie dogs or squirrels, or other burrowing mammals to exploit their burrows as a nest. But they dig by themselves too. 

Most of their time is spent on the ground or low perches foraging for insects or small animals. 

In the burrowing owl's habitat, they are tough to spot, even when out in the open. They are often well camouflaged, and their bite-size doesn't help matters either. You'd be better off with a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope. 

8. Elf Owl

  • Length: 5 to 6 inches inches 
  • Wingspan: 9.5 to 10.5 inches 
  • Weight: 35 to 55 grams
  • Range: Big Bend region of West Texas and in Southern Texas
Despite mentioning so many owls being unique, the Elf owl still stands out.


Firstly, it's the smallest owl in the world, only about the size of a sparrow. And also one of the smallest by weight. 

Secondly, it's the only "weak" owl I know. These birds play dead like an opossum when threatened or handled. And to top it off, only eat insects. At least, they show hunting prowess when they swap flying insects out of the air.

But that doesn't change the fact that these owls are an adorable sight, especially for an owl!

Finally, they are also summer residents along the Rio Grande river and parks in southern Texas.

9. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

ferriginous pygmy owl

  • Length: 5.9 inches
  • Wingspan:
  • Weight:
  • Range: Southern Texas

These owls are only a common sight in central and South America. But they do make a reputation as owls of South Texas as year-round residents.

Remarkably, they also adapt to living and breeding in the extreme conditions of both arid deserts and tropical rainforests.

Ferruginous pygmy owls are known occupants of invasive mesquite trees, and brushes along the Rio Grande river. Fortunately, you can still see these birds on a paid tour to King's Ranch and avoid going through thick and thorn - pun intended.

Like most small and medium owls, these tiny owls are mobbed by songbirds scared of being potential prey. Similarly, they love nesting in cavities dug by woodpeckers.

10. Long-Eared Owls

Long-eared Owl

  • Length: 13 to 16 inches 
  • Wingspan: 35 to 39 inches
  • Weight: 220 to 435 grams
  • Range: West Texas to occasional appearances in North Texas

Long-eared owls have a surprising look on their faces - thanks to long ear tufts and dazzling yellow eyes.

What's astounding is how a group of these apex avian predators gather during cold winters. They would often roost on the same tree to generate warmth in a cluster.

Despite being year-round Texas owl species, you'd rarely see them, even in their normal range. With patience, stealth, and opportunity, you may stumble upon them roosting thick coniferous trees during the day. 

11. Spotted Owl

Spotted Owl

  • Length: 18 to 19 inches 
  • Wingspan: 39 inches 
  • Weight: 500 to 700 grams
  • Range: Trans-Pecos West Texas

A lookalike of the barred owl, spotted owls are resident species in Texas's rocky mountains and canyons. They are particularly permanent occupants in Guadalupe and Davis mountains. 

Spotted owls are the typical night hunters, listening silently for the movement of their prey from a perch before swooping in for the kill.

They feed on mostly small mammals, with a knack for flying squirrels and woodrats.

Their numbers have seen a decline in recent years, not just from habitat loss but also fierce competition with other owl species. Ironically, it's with their more aggressive lookalike, spotted owls. 

12. Flammulated Owl

flammulated owl

  • Length: 6 to 7 inches 
  • Wingspan: 15 to 16 inches 
  • Weight: 43 to 63 grams
  • Range: Mountain ranges of far West Texas

The only known records of these owls in Texas are in the Guadalupe, Davis, and Chisos mountains. But a few migrants have also been documented in eastern counties like Lubbock and Val Verde. 

Flammulated owls have a unique low-pitched call and are can-sized to match. Your best chance of finding one is to track their call and sheer luck.

They love to roost in coniferous or oaky woodlands. In Guadalupe, for instance, their habitat is mainly douglas fir trees. 

Flammulated owls seem to keep their personal lives secret. There's only a handful of their mating records, and nesting is almost non-existent. And this one makes the 12th and the most uncommon. 😉

Frequently Asked Questions About Texas Owls

Is It Legal To Kill Owls In Texas?

It certainly is illegal to kill an owl in Texas for any reason, except in self-defense. Killing an owl would attract a felony charge since they are protected by federal laws. You can get punished with hefty fines of up to $15,000 and/or jail term.

Which Places In Texas Can You Find Owls?

Owls are all found all over Texas in national and state parks, grasslands, wooded backyards, and urban centers. You can be sure to find a species of owl anywhere there's an abundance of cover for the day and food at night. 

Can I Keep An Owl As A Pet In Texas?

No, you cannot keep an owl as a pet. However, you can nurture one for educational and rehabilitation purposes or falconry. 

All you have to do is obtain legal permits and licenses as a falconer or wild bird rehabilitator. And build a standard cage. Also, find professional veterinary care for an owl, which is scarce, by the way. And dedicate 10 to 30 years of your life to the course.

Barn Owl - Featured image Texas Owls

Wrapping Up

So that's a list of only fairly common owls in Texas. Whether it's in your backyard or a paid expedition into their natural habitat. You should be able to find a handful of these owls in Texas as long you’re dedicated. 

Unlikely not for some species, like the snowy owl or mottled owl, for instance, which can be considered a mythic find in Texas. So they were best left out under a Texas owl identification. 

On a final note though, one thing is for sure. After reading this article, you are very likely to find or hear an owl that’s been lurking around in your vicinity within a week or two. Or as instant as a day.

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