Types of Owls in North America

Great Horned OwlOwls are predatory birds. As a general group, owls share many characteristics. Most types are opportunistic hunters, feeding on prey as small as a spider or large as a fox. Owls have large eyes, rigid feathers, excellent nighttime vision, acute hearing, sharp talons, curved beaks and a stiff posture. Their front-facing eyes cannot move from side-to-side. Therefore, an owl will rotate its head to view its surroundings. Many of the 200 known owl species live in North America, including the great horned, eastern screech, snowy, spotted and barn owls. (Pictured: Great Horned Owl)

Great Horned Owl (pictured above)

The great horned owl is a large type of "eagle owl," as defined by the plumed tufts on its head (often called "ears"). This robust owl species is commonly found across North America, thriving in a wide-range of open habitats (including the cold Arctic tundra). The great horned owl is a fierce predator that hunts a great variety of prey, including skunks, rabbits, reptiles, osprey and crows. It hunts at nighttime, aerial diving through the dark sky to catch its next meal. When nesting, a great horned owl will take over an established nest high up in trees, on a building roof top or on the ground.


Eastern Screech Owl

The eastern screech owl is a small owl species found across the United States and Canada. They are recognizable by their striking ear tufts and darkly-hued feathers (of grey, brown or red). They can be found in both urban and rural habitats, and most often in wooded, tree-lined areas. Eastern screech owls will often find a mate and pair for life. The owl family will communicate with one another with a variety of calls that can signify aggression, courtship and protection. The eastern screech owl is an opportunistic hunter, sitting and waiting for the right moment to snatch unsuspecting prey (like songbirds, crayfish, rodents and earthworms). The eastern screech owl enjoys healthy populations in North America.

Snowy Owl

Perhaps the most striking and beautiful of all owls is the snowy owl. This species lives in the cold areas of the Arctic, Scandinavia, Russia, Greenland, Canada and the United States. Thriving in icy, extreme environments and frigid temperatures, the snowy owl has uniquely adapted to its surroundings. It's thick layers of stark white feathers enable this aggressive hunter to blend in the snow-covered environments. Additionally, the plumes on its wings have jagged edges, minimizing the noise made while the bird soars through the air. This owl type has excellent hearing; It can hear the rustling of mammals beneath layers of snow and lush vegetation. The snowy owl is often perched quietly from a look-out point, waiting for a hunting opportunity. It dives upon prey (such as lemmings), snatching them up with sharp talons and a strong beak.

snowy owl

Spotted Owl

The large spotted owl is a bird species often connected with the logging debates of the Pacific Northwest. Because the spotted owl often makes its home in mature old-growth forests, it is frequently a subject of study and dialogue. Additionally, due to the deforestation of its primary habitat, the spotted owl is now a near-threatened species. This owl type has a round, tuftless head and large dark eyes. It will eat flying squirrels, woodrats, rodents, bats and even other owl varieties. It will nest in severed trees, platforms, existing bird nests and tree cavities (but it will not make its own nest). The spotted owl can have 1-3 pearly white eggs in a clutch; Upon hatching, the owlets have closed eyes and depend upon the adult for survival.

northern spotted owl

The Barn Owl

One of the most common owls found in North America is the barn owl. The adult species goes through two feather color transformations-- white and orange--- that often feature unique spotted hues. The medium-sized barn owl has small eyes, a smooth head, heart-shaped face and long legs. It will often communicate through a hiss-like sound, rather than the typical owl "hoot." This nocturnal creature flies low when hunting, soaring over woodlands, deserts and open fields. Even in complete darkness and dense vegetation, the barn owl can hear and locate prey (such as mice).

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