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Owls, both mysterious and wise, captivate many with their range from tiny to large enough to challenge a hawk. This guide explores the various owl species found in the United States.

These nocturnal birds of prey, often elusive, are intriguing and unique. While they don’t frequent feeders like other birds, spotting an owl is always a thrill.

Different owl species inhabit specific areas across America. Let’s dive into learning about these fascinating birds and their habitats.

Types of Owl Species in the US

Embark on a journey to discover the diverse and intriguing types of owls, each with its unique characteristics and habitats.

1. Barn Owl

Barn owls, found globally with over 40 races, are not particularly abundant in any one location, with North America hosting about 9% of the population.

These owls, known for nesting in barns and other structures, are distinguished by their heart-shaped faces and ghostly white and warm brown plumage.

With a growing population of 120,000, they thrive in grasslands, fields, and deserts. Their long legs and excellent hearing aid in hunting mostly rodents. Barn Owls are known for being monogamous, and they mate for life.

2. Snowy Owl

owl types

The Snowy Owl, the heaviest owl species, weighs between 3 and 5 pounds and resides in the Arctic tundra. They mainly eat small mammals and migrate south when prey is scarce, as seen in the winter of 2013-14 with numerous sightings across the U.S.

Also known as polar, Arctic, or white owls, they have stunning white feathers. The population in the U.S. and Canada is around 30,000, down 64% since 1970, mainly due to illegal hunting and climate change.

Female owls, white with brown specks, can reach 28 inches in length with a wingspan over six feet.

3. Great Horned Owl

kinds of owls

The Great Horned Owl, widespread across North America, nests in diverse habitats, from desert cactuses to northern forests.

Their diet is varied, including porcupines, scorpions, bats, skunks, and other owls. These owls often use nests made by other birds and start nesting early in the season.

The ‘horns’ on their heads are actually feather tufts. With a population of 3,900,000, they are slowly declining due to pesticide poisoning and illegal hunting. Preferring forests near open fields, they are formidable hunters, capable of taking down significant prey.

4. Barred Owl

owl breeds

Barred Owls are found in forests across the eastern U.S., southern Canada, and increasingly in the Pacific Northwest. Their habitat expanded as ancient forests were cleared, creating environments favorable to them.

However, their spread to Washington and Oregon poses a threat to the native Spotted Owls reliant on diminishing old-growth forests, presenting a conservation challenge. The Great Horned Owl is a significant predator of the Barred Owl.

Known for staying close to home, Barred Owls rarely move far from their birthplace, with most staying within a 6-mile radius. Their population is about 3,100,000 and growing.

Also called hoot owls or striped owls for their distinctive tan and brown stripes, they prefer mature forests and face threats from deforestation.

Barred Owls are territorial, marking their hunting boundaries with song from a tree branch. Their territories are often inherited and used by successive generations.

5. Screech Owl

how many owl species are there

The U.S. is home to three screech owl species: the Eastern in the East, the Western in the West, and the Whiskered in Arizona and New Mexico’s southern canyons. These cavity-nesters are drawn to wooded backyards with nest boxes.

Eastern screech owls vary in color from gray to red, with shades of brown in between. Their calls help differentiate them: Easterns mimic a whinnying horse, while Western screech owls and Whiskereds produce hoots and toots.

Screech owls have a diverse diet, eating everything from insects to small mammals.

6. Little Owl

type of owls

The small owl, often found in open spaces like farmland, orchards, and woodlands, is known for its distinctive white-spotted upperparts. With striking yellow eyes and white brows, it often appears alert due to its upright stance.

This owl nests in tree or rock cavities and is sometimes active during the day, quietly perching on posts or rocks. Mostly active from dusk till dawn, it has a low, undulating flight.

Its vocalizations include a variety of squeaks and high-pitched hoots, adding to its endearing qualities.

7. Boreal Owl

different owl breeds

Boreal Owls, native to the boreal forests of Alaska, Canada, and Eurasia, have a limited range in the U.S., extending from northern Idaho and Montana to Colorado’s mountains.

These elusive birds, about the size of a robin, have large heads, stocky bodies, and short tails. They change roosts daily and may use nest boxes within their range.

Primarily active at night, they perch and hunt small mammals and birds. They’re generally quiet, except in late winter to spring when males call more for mates.

With a population of 1.7 million, these owls live in dense coniferous forests, often in mountainous areas. Their dark brown or rust-colored plumage makes them hard to spot. They feed on rodents, and interestingly, female Boreal Owls are twice as heavy as males.

8. Long-eared Owl

types of owls with pictures

Long-eared Owls, resembling slim Great Horned Owls, have unique checkerboard patterns on their chests, unlike the horizontal barring of Great Horned Owls. They roost in dense foliage near open hunting grounds, preying on voles, mice, and young rabbits.

Rather than building nests, they use abandoned ones from birds like ravens, crows, and hawks. The long feathers on their heads, while not related to hearing, may help with camouflage.

These owls, known for communal roosting, have a declining population of 140,000 in the U.S. and Canada, mainly due to deforestation. Their long ear tufts, thought to be used for communication, resemble those of dogs or cats in expressing mood and intentions.

9. Burrowing Owl

list of owl species

Burrowing Owls, unique for nesting underground in grasslands and deserts, are an exception in the owl world. In southern Florida, they dig their own burrows, while in the Southwest, they use holes made by prairie dogs and other animals.

Often seen perched on low posts, they live in colonies and stay mostly on the ground for hunting and nesting. With a population of 1.1 million in the U.S., they face a decline due to habitat loss, pesticides, and predators.

They burrow underground and hunt ground animals during the day. Their decline is linked to prairie dog control programs, which reduce their food sources. Size-wise, they are similar to American robins.

10. Northern Pygmy Owl

species of owl

Northern Pygmy-Owls, common in the mountainous regions of the western U.S., are active during the day, making them somewhat easier to spot than other nocturnal owls.

Despite their small size and tendency to perch quietly, you can spot them by listening to their high-pitched calls. Watch for songbirds causing a commotion, as they often mob these owls to drive them away, fearing predation.

These owls have round heads without ear tufts, brown-striped bellies, and brown backs with white speckles.

With a stable population of 100,000, they inhabit western forests, facing threats from habitat loss. Despite their small size, similar to a house sparrow, they hunt prey twice their size.

11. Great gray Owl

wild owls

Owls vary in size, with the Great Gray Owl being the largest at up to 2.5 feet long. Found in northern boreal forests, this owl has a unique hunting method, using dish-shaped feathers around its face to funnel sound to its ears.

Its incredible hearing lets it detect voles and lemmings beneath the snow. Great Gray Owls, residing in the extensive boreal forests of North America and Eurasia, are declining, with only 95,000 left due to deforestation.

They hunt by perching low to the ground, using their keen vision and hearing to locate prey before swooping down. Their wingspans can exceed five feet.

12. Northern Hawk Owl

different types of owls

Northern Hawk Owls, primarily found in Canada and Alaska, occasionally extend their range into the northern U.S. during winter. Their appearance in the U.S. often follows a successful breeding season coupled with a decrease in prey, leading them to travel further for food.

These owls, with large heads, yellow eyes, and white faces, hunt like hawks at dawn and dusk, spotting prey from great distances.

In the U.S., they favor areas like lakeshores and wooded farmlands. With a population of 100,000, they mainly reside in boreal forests and face threats from deforestation.

These owls don’t migrate and typically stay within the same breeding range. Active during the day, they are often seen in March, mating and nesting, particularly in dead spruce trees. Their remarkable eyesight enables them to spot prey over half a mile away.


The diverse world of owls in America is a fascinating realm, each species with its unique traits and habits. From the majestic Great Gray Owl to the diminutive Northern Pygmy Owl, these predatory birds captivate us with their mysterious ways and incredible adaptations.

Their survival, deeply intertwined with their habitats, reminds us of the importance of conservation efforts to protect these remarkable avian wonders.

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