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15 Types of Owls Found in the U.S.

Written by Garrett Hayes

Last updated on Feb 10th, 2024
types of owls - featured image

Owls are one of the world's most famous raptors known for their unique facial expression and nocturnal habits. They're the most unique-looking birds available. We can identify them by their huge heart-shaped or round faces with bright round eyes.

And while some folks love them, others find owls creepy. But did you know that out of all the over 200 owl species, 19 types of owls can be found in the United States?

15 Types of Owls in the United States

North America is home to some of the most unique owls on the planet, with most of them being found in the U.S. So, in this article, we'll exclude the rare ones you may find in your backyard. So let's look at the facts and images of the most common species in the country.

1. Western Screech Owl

The Western Screech Owl is a small owl species found in western North America. This owl species inhabits various habitats, including woodlands, and deciduous and coniferous forests. They are also known for inhabiting urban areas with suitable nesting locations like parks and gardens.

The Western Screech Owl is a relatively small owl, measuring about 7-10 inches in length with a wingspan of approximately 21 inches. It has prominent ear tufts on top of its head, which are not actual ears but feathers that help with camouflage and communication.

The owl's plumage can vary, but it typically has a mottled pattern of gray, brown, and white. Its unique plumage provides excellent camouflage against tree bark. These owls eyes have huge and yellowish eyes.

As with other owl species, the Western Screech Owls are primarily nocturnal. They feed on a diet consisting mainly of small mammals, insects, and other birds.

Like most owls, the Western Screech Owls got its name from its distinctive call.

Its unique call has been described as a series of soft, descending whistles or rapid trills.

They use these calls for communication, mating, and territory defense.

2. Barn Owls

The Barn Owl is a remarkable and iconic species known for its hunting habits and unique appearance. This species is valued for its important role in controlling rodent populations and admired for its beauty.

This medium-sized owl has a heart-shaped, pale face with dark eyes and no ear tufts. Its upperparts are a mix of light gray and buff, while its underparts are usually white or pale, with some variations depending on the subspecies and geographical location.

As nocturnal hunters, Barn Owls are most active at night, flying silently in search of prey. They have specialized adaptations for hunting in low-light conditions, such as keen hearing and exceptional low-light vision.

Unlike many other owl species, they often hunt by flying low over open fields, searching for small mammals such as rodents and voles.

The Barn Owl's call is a distinctive and eerie screech, often described as a raspy hiss or a series of high-pitched screams.

Their vocalizations are often associated with haunted houses or eerie night scenes in movies, adding to their mystique.

Barn Owls usually breed in the spring or early summer. They nest in cavities, such as old barns, tree hollows, or other sheltered locations, which is how they got their common name.

3. Ferruginous Pygmy Owl

The Ferruginous Pygmy Owl's unique appearance and active diurnal behavior make it a fascinating and sought-after species for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts. This small owl species is native to the Americas.

It's known for its diminutive size and striking appearance. The Ferruginous Pygmy Owl is tiny, measuring about 6 inches in length and weighing around 1.5 to 2.5 ounces. It has a relatively large head with prominent yellow eyes and lacks ear tufts.

The overall coloration is a mix of reddish-brown (ferruginous) and gray, with streaks and spots that provide excellent camouflage against tree bark.

These owls inhabit a variety of habitats, including forests, woodlands, savannas, and sometimes gardens and orchards. They are found from the southern United States through Central America and as far south as Argentina.

The Ferruginous Pygmy Owl is known for its distinctive song, which is a series of whistled hoots, often described as a rapid "hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo" sound, with the last notes trailing off. This call is repeated several times, and it serves both as a territorial display and a form of communication between mated pairs.

4. Northern Hawk Owl

Thanks to its unique combination of owl-like features and diurnal hunting behavior, this is one of the most sought-after species. In fact, birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts are intrigued by its adaptation to daylight hunting.

The Northern Hawk Owl is a medium-sized owl, measuring about 15-17 inches in length with a wingspan of around 27-31 inches. It has a slim and elongated body, a relatively long tail, and short, rounded wings.

The owl's plumage is generally gray with a white facial disk, dark vertical streaks on its breast, and bright yellow eyes.

Its appearance is reminiscent of a hawk, which contributes to its name.

The Northern Hawk Owl is diurnal, meaning it is primarily active during the day.

Unlike many other owl species, it hunts during daylight hours, soaring from perch to perch in search of prey. It preys mainly on small rodents, such as voles and lemmings, but may also target birds and insects.

The owl's hunting behavior, combined with its hawk-like appearance, gives it a unique and exceptional niche among owls.

Northern Hawk Owl's unique vocalizations are varied and include a range of calls, such as whistles, chattering sounds, and harsh, barking-like calls. These calls are used for territorial communication and to attract mates during the breeding season.

5. Northern Pygmy Owl

This owl's ability to thrive in various forested environments showcases the adaptability of these fascinating owls. Despite its tiny size, it is a skilled predator and possesses several fascinating features.

The Northern Pygmy Owl is one of the smallest owls in North America, measuring about 6-7 inches in length and weighing around 2.1 ounces. It has a round head with a white facial disc, yellow eyes, and lacks ear tufts. The plumage is usually brownish-gray with streaks and spots for camouflage.

Northern Pygmy Owls are primarily diurnal (active during the day), making them unusual among most owl species.

They are skilled hunters and have a unique hunting behavior known as "still-hunting."

They perch quietly on a tree branch, waiting for small prey, such as insects, small birds, and small mammals, to pass by. When the opportunity arises, they swiftly launch an attack.

The Northern Pygmy Owl has a distinctive call that sounds like a series of high-pitched whistles, often described as "toots." They use these calls for communication, especially during the breeding season.

6. Whiskered Screech Owl

Other than being a small-sized creature, the Whiskered Screech Owl is known for its unique call. Found in parts of South and Central America and the United States, the Whiskered Screech Owl is a relatively small owl, measuring about 7-8 inches in length. It has a wingspan of around 18 inches.

This owl has a gray-brown plumage with streaks and spots, providing excellent camouflage.

As the name suggests, it has prominent facial whiskers, which are specialized feathers around its bill.

This species is typically found in various forested habitats, including tropical and subtropical forests, as well as wooded areas near rivers and streams. It can occur at different elevations, from lowlands to mountains.

Like other screech owl species, the Whiskered Screech Owl is primarily nocturnal and hunts for small prey, such as insects, small birds, rodents, and other small mammals. Its sharp talons and excellent night vision aid in successful hunting.

The Whiskered Screech Owl is known for its distinctive and far-carrying call, which consists of a rapid series of trilling whistles. Their vocalizations are often heard during the breeding season and territorial displays.

7. Eastern Screech Owl

The Eastern Screech Owl's remarkable ability to thrive in various habitats and its captivating vocalizations make it an exceptional species. This small and elusive owl species is found in eastern North America.

This Owl is a small owl, measuring about 7-10 inches in length, with a wingspan of approximately 18-24 inches. The Eastern Screech Owl has a compact body, a rounded head with prominent ear tufts, and yellow eyes.

Their plumage can vary, and they come in two main color morphs: gray and rufous (reddish-brown). This variability helps them blend in with their surroundings effectively.

Like many owl species, Eastern Screech Owls are primarily nocturnal, meaning they are most active during the night. They are skilled hunters and prey on small mammals, such as mice, voles, and shrews, as well as insects and small birds.

Their silent flight and excellent hearing aid make them exceptional hunters.

The Eastern Screech Owl is known for its distinctive call, which consists of a series of eerie, whistling trills or whinnies. They have different vocalizations for communication and territory defense.

8. Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl's powerful appearance, fierce hunting skills, and iconic hooting calls make it one of the most iconic and respected owl species in the Americas. Its adaptability and ability to thrive in diverse environments have contributed to its success as a top predator in many ecosystems.

This powerful and majestic owl species can be found throughout the Americas. The Great Horned Owl is one of the most widespread and well-known owls in North and South America.

The Great Horned Owl is a large and robust owl, measuring about 18-25 inches long, with a wingspan of approximately 3.3 to 4.8 feet. It has distinctive feather tufts on its head, often called "horns" or "ear tufts," although they are not actual ears.

The owl's plumage is a mix of mottled gray, brown, and white, providing excellent camouflage in various habitats.

Great Horned Owls are primarily nocturnal and highly efficient hunters. They have excellent night vision and hearing, which enables them to locate and capture a wide range of prey. Their diet includes small to medium-sized mammals, birds, reptiles, and other owls.

The Great Horned Owls are known for their deep and resonant hooting call, often described as "hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo" with a distinct rhythm.

The territorial calls of these owls are often heard during the breeding season and throughout the year.

9. Burrowing Owl

Unlike most owl species, the Burrowing Owl faces several threats, including habitat loss due to agriculture and urbanization. Some populations are declining, leading to concerns about their conservation status in some regions.

This unique and fascinating owl species is known for its behavior of nesting underground in burrows.

The Burrowing Owl is relatively small, measuring about 7.5 to 11 inches long, with a wingspan of approximately 20 to 24 inches. It has a squat, compact body with long legs, which it uses for walking and running. The plumage is typically brownish with white spots and streaks, providing camouflage in its arid grassland and open habitat.

The Burrowing Owl has a variety of vocalizations, including soft cooing calls and high-pitched whistles. They are also known for their chattering and clicking sounds, which they use for communication with their mates and offspring.

10. Barred Owl

Unlike most owl species, the Barred Owl is not considered globally threatened and is relatively common in its range. The Barred Owl, scientific, is a large and charismatic owl species native to North America.

This medium to large-sized owl measures about 16-25 inches long, with a wingspan of approximately 38-49 inches. It has a rounded head with no ear tufts and dark brown eyes. The distinctive feature of the Barred Owl is its barred pattern of dark and light horizontal stripes on its body, wings, and tail, giving it its name.

Barred Owls are primarily nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night. The Call of the Barred Owl is a distinctive series of eight hooting notes, often described as "Who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all." Their vocalizations are loud and can be heard over long distances.

11. Elf Owl

Due to their small size and nocturnal habits, these types of owls can be challenging to spot. The Elf Owl is the smallest owl species in the world. Despite its tiny size, it possesses several remarkable features.

The Elf Owl measures about 5.75 inches in length, making it one of the smallest owls.

It has a rounded head, large eyes, and a short tail. Its plumage is light gray to reddish-brown, with white and buff-colored markings on its face and body.

The owl species is primarily nocturnal, meaning it is most active at night. The call of the Elf Owl is a series of soft, high-pitched whistles, sometimes described as "whit-whit-whit." They may call frequently during the breeding season, using their vocalizations to communicate with their mates and defend their territory.

12. Boreal Owls

Known for being elusive and secretive, spotting the Boreal owl can be challenging in the wild. Their presence in these northern forests highlights their importance in maintaining ecological balance and controlling rodent populations.

Boreal Owls are relatively small owls, measuring about 9-11 inches in length, with a wingspan of approximately 21-24 inches. They have a rounded head with no ear tufts, yellow eyes, and a distinctive facial disk with dark concentric circles. Their plumage is brown with white spots and streaks, providing excellent camouflage in their forested habitat.

Boreal Owls are primarily nocturnal and are most active during the night. They are skilled hunters and primarily feed on small mammals, such as voles and mice, but they may also prey on birds and insects.

The call of the Boreal Owl is a series of soft, flute-like hoots that sound like "whu, whu, whu." Boreal Owls have a circumpolar distribution and are found in northern regions around the world, including northern North America, Europe, and Asia.

13. Northern Saw Whet Owl

Thanks to their small size and elusive nature, Northern Saw-whet Owls can be challenging to spot in the wild. They are treasured by birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts for their unique appearance and vocalizations.

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is one of the smallest owl species in North America, measuring about 7-8 inches in length, with a wingspan of approximately 16-18 inches.

It has a rounded head with no ear tufts, large yellow eyes, and a distinctive facial disk with dark concentric circles. Their plumage is brown with white spots and streaks, providing excellent camouflage in their forested habitat.

Northern Saw-whet Owls are primarily nocturnal (active during the night), and they are often solitary and secretive. They are skilled hunters and feed mainly on small mammals, such as mice, voles, and shrews, but they may also eat insects and birds.

The call of the Northern Saw-whet Owl is a distinctive, repetitive, high-pitched tooting sound, often described as "toot-toot-toot" or "whistle-whistle-whistle."

14. Eurasian Eagle Owl

Unlike most types of owls, this owl holds a prominent place in folklore and cultural traditions in many regions where it is found. The Eurasian Eagle Owl is one of the largest and most powerful owl species in the world.

It is a majestic bird of prey known for its impressive size and striking appearance.

The Eurasian Eagle Owl is a large owl, measuring about 24-30 inches in length, with a wingspan of approximately 5.5 to 6.6 feet. It has a massive, rounded head with prominent ear tufts (feathers that resemble ears) and bright orange-yellow eyes. The plumage is mainly mottled brown and buff, providing excellent camouflage in their habitats.

Eurasian Eagle Owls are primarily nocturnal (active during the night) and are powerful predators. They hunt a wide range of prey, including small to medium-sized mammals, birds, and occasionally reptiles and amphibians. Their strong talons and excellent night vision make them effective hunters.

The call of the Eurasian Eagle Owl is a deep, resonant "hoo-hoo" or "ho-ho" sound, often described as similar to the hoot of a Tawny Owl but louder and more booming.

15. Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl's majestic appearance and Arctic adaptations make it a symbol of the far north. These migratory species have an irregular migration pattern.

They may undertake long-distance movements in search of food during certain years, resulting in irruptions in more southerly regions outside their typical range.

This large owl measures about 20-28 inches in length, with a wingspan of approximately 4.2 to 4.8 feet. The Snowy Owl has a rounded head with no ear tufts and bright yellow eyes. Both males and females have similar plumage, with females being slightly larger and more heavily marked.

Their plumage is predominantly white, helping them blend into their snowy surroundings during the winter, while young individuals and some adult males may have more dark markings.

The Snowy Owl is not as vocal as some other owl species. They mainly produce soft hoots and whistles for communication, and they may also clap their beaks as a display of aggression or excitement.

Conclusion

Owls are exceptional creatures, and North America, particularly the U.S., has a great share of these birds. The owls of the U.S. range in size between the Great Horned Owl and the Elf Owl. They also come in a wide range of patterns and colors.

Unfortunately, spotting a huge percentage of these birds is almost impossible, thanks to their nocturnal habits. So, if you're lucky to spot one, then you should consider yourself lucky; after all, they're mythical creatures

Frequently Asked Questions

What do owls eat?

These nocturnal creatures consume insects, small mammals, and rodents. Other species specialize in other types of foods, including fish.

Why do owls hoot?

Generally, not all owls hoot, but they do vocalize for the same reason. Owls hoot or critter for communication purposes. Their calls are territorial warnings to other species. They also use their noises to attract a mate during the breeding season.

What's the smallest owl in the United States?

According to most sources, the Elf Owl is the smallest owl species found in North America.

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