18 Types of Owls You Should Know About

by Rosemarie Hardison
types of owls

Owls are some of the most fascinating members of the animal kingdom, and they are indeed the most interesting birds out there. Scientists and bird-lovers claim that there are at least 225 types of owls in the world, but that number can never be definitive.

Below, you will find an introduction to these birds in general, and then a list of some of the most interesting types of owls out there. Read on!

Owls: A Crash Course

Owls belong to the order of Strigiformes. They are nocturnal and solitary birds of prey that have a large head and eyes, a typically upright state, sharp talons, as well as feathers that enable silent flight.

Owls also have binocular vision and binaural hearing, which allows them to hunt in the night. These birds mostly feed on small mammals, other birds, and insects. A few unique species also hunt fish.

These fascinating birds are present in almost every part of the Earth. The only exceptions are the polar ice caps and some small and remote islands.

Although owls are solitary birds, they can also form groups and live together, especially in areas where there are a lot of them. Groups of owls are called parliaments.

All the owls in the world are divided into two families. The family of typical or true owls comprises the majority of the world’s owls, while the barn-owl family consists of around twenty species. You can find members of both families and all the info about them in the sections that follow.

The Most Interesting Types of Owls In the World

1. The Northern Saw-Whet Owl

the northern saw whet owl-min

Although this owl’s name contains the word northern, it can indeed be found in all parts of the US, Canada, Mexico, and Europe. These owls are usually between 7 and 8 inches long, and their wingspan is somewhere between 16.5 and 18.5 inches.

Compared to other owls, this species is quite small and might be hard to spot at night. They build their nests in dense vegetation and as high up in the trees as they can go, so they stay well-hidden from prey and predators alike.

However, as hard as these birds are to spot, they are quite easy to hear. Their shrill cries echo through forests at night, so you can be sure that they are always up there watching.

Interestingly, you can find these owls by following a completely different group of birds. Namely, different songbirds try to mob the owls’ nests frequently, and following those songbirds in their quest is how you can spot these beautiful owls.

2. The Long-Eared Owl

the long eared owl

You can recognize this bird by its brown and gray feathers and beautiful honey-black eyes. It lives all over North America, Europe, and Asia, and it, as its name suggests, has long ears.

The Long-Eared Owl usually lives in abandoned nests of birds that are of similar size. So, you can find it in nests by hawks, magpies, and ravens. The owls mostly feed on small mammals that they hunt down in forest areas. They can also feed on larger insects.

Most Long-Eared Owls mate for life. The courtship involves many aural displays and calls by males that span months. When a female owl finally accepts a male, they form a monogamous pair and live together for the rest of their lives.

3. The Barn Owl

the barn owl

These owls can grow to be up to 16 inches long, and their wingspan can be up to 50 inches wide. You can recognize them by their heart-shaped face and fluffy feathers. Barn Owls live on every continent on the planet except for Antarctica. In fact, this owl is one of the most widespread types of owls in the world.

Barn owls hunt at night, and they do so over open land. When these birds nest, they make sure to cache additional goods to feed their babies. Those include mice, small insects, and rats.

This owl swallows its prey whole. That makes its droppings full of bones, meaning that scientists have a clear record of its diet. The same cannot be said about most other types of owls.

These owls stay far away from mountains and prefer farmlands and forests that aren’t too dense. You can even expect to find them in different manmade structures, especially if the structures are abandoned.

Barn owls have fantastic hearing, and their feathers conceal their flight superbly. That allows them to sneak up on their prey unnoticed and hunt effortlessly.

4. The Speckled Owl

the speckled owl

The Speckled owl resides in Central and South America. It favors dense rainforests that are as far from humans as possible. These true owls hunt small mammals at night, and they are fast and efficient in doing so.

These owls get their name from their unique eyes. Namely, they have round white markings around their yellow eyes which resemble spectacles. These birds look like the adorable nerds of the owl family.

Speckled Owls have black, brown, yellowish, and even white feathers. These colors make it easy for them to hide in tropical foliage. That helps them be amazing hunters.

5. The Snowy Owl

the snowy owl

The Snowy Owl is one of the heaviest and largest types of owls in the world. It can grow to be up to 28 inches long, and its wingspan can reach a little over 57 inches. This bird lives in the Arctic tundras of North America, Europe, and Asia.

This owl gets its name from its fluffy snowy feathers. They allow it to fit in nicely with its surroundings and hide in plain sight in the snow. These birds’ nests are quite simple. They form dents in the snow with their bodies and use those as nests.

Snowy Owls are diurnal birds, unlike most other owls. That means that they hunt and feed during the day, and rest at night. These birds love feeding on lemmings the most, so that is their main food source. They hunt on open fields, and they can be rather patient hunters.

Unfortunately, these beautiful birds are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. However, organizations are doing everything in their power to preserve them and protect them from humans and other predators that might cause them harm.

6. The Great Horned Owl

the great horned owl

This owl is one of the strongest birds in existence. Its massive talons require more than 28 pounds of pressure to open once they are closed around something. The talons enable the birds to hunt large raptors as prey, and they kill them by breaking their spines upon impact.

These birds live all over North America and Europe. They do not migrate, so you can find them in their ranges year-round. They can thrive at all heights, from sea level to up to 10,000 feet in the air.

As its name suggests, this owl has small horns on the top of its head which give it a rather scary and regal look. It is either brownish or gray and speckled with white feathers all over. Its eyes are black and yellow, as are those of most owls in the world.

These owls have a distinctive hoot that helps them recognize each other and communicate across great distances. A mate can send messages and warn about any dangers to their nests, and the other bird will immediately recognize the cry of its companion.

7. The Short-Eared Owl

the short eared owl

This owl is one of the smaller types, as it can grow to be up to 16 inches long. It lives in the northern parts of America, Europe, and Asia. During winters, these birds travel to the south to enjoy the warmer weather.

These birds of prey like to hunt on open land. They fly low, and their speed leaves their prey no hope for escape or survival. They feed on smaller mammals and birds. The owls decapitate the mammals before swallowing the rest of the body whole. With birds, they remove the wings before eating the rest.

You will not have a hard time spotting this owl, as it is one of the few diurnal types of owls out there. It looks quite majestic with its white and amber feathers, and its eyes are speckled with thick black lines.

8. The Elf Owl

the elf owl

As its name suggests, this owl is one of the smallest owls out there. Its wingspan is only ten inches wide and its body 5 inches long. It is mostly found in the American South West.

Elf owls live in desert areas and nest in woodpecker holes in cactuses. You can also find them in woodlands, but they prefer dryer places. These owls also migrate to the south during winters, usually to Mexico.

These birds usually feed on insects, including beetles and crickets. They can feed on smaller mice and even scorpions. Elf owls are endangered in all their ranges, and a lot needs to be done to preserve them. So far, things are not looking too bright for these adorable birds.

9. The Northern Pygmy-Owl

the northern pygmy owl

These owls prefer mountainous areas, so you can find them in mountains all around North America, Europe, and Asia. During winters, they move downwards and even inhabit areas populated by humans. However, they will not use nesting boxes as some other owls do. They prefer to make their own nests.

This owl is famous for hunting a lot and saving everything it doesn’t eat for later. That is why its nests are often full of different carcasses, from bigger mice and rats to insects.

Northern Pygmies are different hunters from other types of owls on this list. Instead of chasing after their prey and caching it mid-flight, these birds wait for it to come to them. As soon as it is close enough, they pounce on it and leave it no chance of survival.

These owls can hide in plain sight and go unnoticed thanks to their feathers that resemble tree barks. They allow them to fit in with their surroundings effortlessly.

10. The Burrowing Owl

the burrowing owl

Although most people believe that all owls live in trees, that is not the case. These owls attest to that, as they much rather take residence in squirrel or prairie dog burrows. That is how they got their name.

Another feature that separates this owl from most others is its long legs. Apart from flying up to its prey and capturing it, it can also run to it and catch it by surprise that way.

Although these owls also love to store food in their burrows, they have another innovative way of attracting prey to them. Namely, they put animal dung all around the entrance to their burrows, which attracts insects.

They then hunt those insects and feed on them or give them to their babies. That way, they don’t even have to leave the burrows to get food if it’s not absolutely necessary. That comes in handy when their babies are freshly hatched and need their utmost care and protection.

11. The Eastern Screech-Owl

the eastern screech owl

This bird is one of the most common types of owls living in woodland areas all around the world. Its feathers are a combination of gray, mottled brown, and white. These colors enable it to blend in with trees easily, which helps them hide from prey and predators.

These owls are extremely good at hiding, which makes studying them a bit hard. Luckily, they expel their pellets right at the base of the trees they live on, which gives scientists enough to work with to find out about their diets and habits. These birds love feeding on small mammals, lizards, and frogs.

Eastern Screech-Owls usually mate for life. However, males can sometimes go out and mate once more. They then bring the new mate to their old nest and kick the first female out. The second female then lays her eggs and takes care of both sets of babies. So far, it is unclear why males do this.

This bird has a bit of a misleading name. Instead of a screech, its call is closer to a descending tremolo one. That makes it easily recognizable, even if you cannot see it in its hiding place.

12. The Northern Hawk Owl

the northern hawk owl

As their name suggests, these owls live in northern parts of the planet, including Alaska and its surroundings. These birds are quite unusual in a lot of aspects. First off, they are diurnal, meaning that they hunt during the day. That means that they identify their prey by sight alone, as their hearing isn’t as good as that of their nocturnal family members.

This behavior makes Northern Hawk Owls much closer to hawks, hence their name. These birds have a long oval body and an even longer tail. They have beautiful blue, black, and white feathers, which makes them quite colorful compared to other owls.

Northern Hawk Owls love sitting on treetops and searching for prey with their razor-sharp eyes. You can easily spot them doing so during the day. They love woodland areas and make their nests high up in the trees.

13. The Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

the ferruginous pygmy owl

This owl is considered to be endangered in most parts of the world, including the United States. However, it thrives in Mexico, which gives some hope for its survival. They favor desert areas with a lot of cactuses or mesquite forests close to rivers.

These owls are quite tiny, and they feed on insects, small birds, and lizards. Their feathers are a combination of caramel and chocolate brown with white speckles all over.

14. The Great Gray Owl

the great gray owl

Great Gray Owls live in northern and western parts of America, Europe, and Asia. They do not migrate, so you can find them in these ranges all year. These birds belong to larger types of owls, and their wingspan can be as wide as 60 inches. They also have rather long tails. In fact, the Great Gray is the tallest owl in the US.

You can easily recognize these owls by their unique eyes. While most owls have eyes that are far apart on their facial discs, the eyes of Great Grays are quite close together. In addition, they also have a white, X-like pattern on their faces, which other types of owls lack.

As their name tells you, the bodies of these birds are covered in fluffy gray feathers. They also have spots of silver all over, which gives them a glowing look. However, they like to hide from humans and aren’t that easy to spot at all.

These birds are fully nocturnal. They are most active in the hours before dusk and dawn, when they hunt small mammals and lizards. They also enjoy eating larger insects and frogs.

15. The Boreal Owl

the boreal owl

The Boreal Owl lives in Alaska, Canada, northern parts of the US, and Europe. Its body is a combination of different shades of brown along with white dots that cover its wings and crown.

Although these owls nest in trees, they will also make use of nesting boxes if they come across them. Zoologists still don’t know much about these owls, as they like to live in high locations and avoid humans. What makes studying them even harder is the fact that they love to change their nesting place often, even every day

With these types of owls, the female can be recognized by the fact that it is always much larger than its male counterpart. In fact, these females can be double the size of their partners, which makes them the protectors in the relationship.

16. The Western Screech-Owl

the western screech owl

These non-migratory birds inhabit most of the United States, Europe, and Asia. They love water, so it is easy to find them close to canyons and rivers. These owls nest high up in trees, and they avoid humans as much as possible.

Although their name suggests a screeching call, these birds actually have a tooting one. They have dark brown and black heathers, which allow them to blend in with tree barks around them. That helps them hide during the day and surprise prey at night.

17. The Eurasian Eagle-Owl

the eurasian eagle owl

This owl is one of the largest species in the world. It mostly lives in Europe and Asia, but it can be found in certain parts of the US and Africa as well. These birds are so large that, apart from mice, rats, and snakes, they can hunt foxes and birds that are their size.

When it comes to their preferred habitats, these birds aren’t picky at all. They can live in forests, deserts, and mountains with ease. These birds usually nest in cave entrances and rock crevices. They also mate only once, meaning that they stay with the same partner until they die.

These owls are quite smart. They breed only when they have an abundance of food, and they know they will be able to feed their babies. If that isn’t the case, they hold off and wait for more fruitful times.

18. The Flammulated Owl

the flammulated owl

Although these owls can be found across the US and Europe, they hide so well that scientists are still unsure about their migrating habits. However, they do know that these owls prefer mountainous areas and pine-oak tree forests.

What’s interesting about this owl is its low-pitched call that can sound quite scary in the dead of night. Though their bodies are relatively small, this call makes them seem larger and more dangerous to predators and prey alike. That both offers them protection and helps them hunt more effectively.

Their size (about seven inches tall) and ability to camouflage well make these birds extremely hard to spot. They are some of the most secretive types of owls out there.

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