• Barn Owl
    Barn
  • Barred Owl
    Barred
  • Boreal Owl
    Boreal
  • Burrowing Owl
    Burrowing
  • Eastern Screech Owl
    Eastern Screech
  • Elf Owl
    Elf
  • Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
    Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
  • Flammulated Owl
    Flammulated
  • Great Grey Owl
    Great Grey
  • Great Horned Owl
    Great Horned
  • Long Eared Owl
    Long-Eared
  • Northern Hawk Owl
    Northern Hawk
  • Northern Pygmy Owl
    Northern Pygmy
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl
    Northern Saw-whet
  • Short-eared Owl
    Short-Eared
  • Snowy Owl
    Snowy
  • Spotted Owl
    Spotted
  • Western Screech Owl
    Western Screech
  • Western Screech Owl
    Whiskered Screech Owl

About Owls

Owls belong to one of two families: Tytonidae (barn and bay owls) and Strigidae (all other owls). The only Tytonid in North America is the Barn Owl.

Owls are typically nocturnal or crepuscular. However, this pattern changes in winter, when owls branch into different times and habitats to search for food.

Because owls vocalize at a distinctively low frequency, their songs can travel long distances without being absorbed by vegetation. Becoming familiar with these songs will help your identifications.

In general, owls hunt in two ways:
Perching and pouncing — usually from a low perch, common among forest owls
Quartering — flying low over the ground, common among open-country owls

Owls have evolved many important adaptations, including a few that help with hunting:

  • Large heads, accommodating large eyes and ears
  • Extremely mobile heads, capable of rotating 270 degrees
  • Asymmetrical ears, able to calculate flight angles of prey
  • Feathers that absorb all sound, creating silent flight


To help with identification, we separate owls into two categories: those with ear tufts or horns called “tufts”; and those with round heads, called “round-headed.”  To identify an owl, note these field tips:

  • Whether the owl has tufts or is round-headed
  • Eye and bill color
  • Plumage color and other distinct markings
  • Relative size of the owl
  • Details of the owl's habitat
  • Distribution of the owl in guide books
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