Owls All Around

Barred Owl, Texas

Everything about owls is remarkable. Large eyes with binocular vision, facial disks around the eyes that funnel sound more acutely, ears that are asymmetric for better sound coverage, feathers structured for silent flight, a neck that can rotate, and powerful talons for skull-crushing.

 

There are over 200 species of owls in the world, living on all continents except Antarctica.

 

They are classified into two different families,Β Strigidae and Tytonidae,Β  with about 19 owl species in North America, 42 in Africa, and 13 in Europe. South America, 55; India, 30; Australia, 11. Sources differ in numbers. (Range map below.)

Giant Eagle Owl, aka Verreaux’s Owl; Botswana, Africa

 

 

Great Horned Owlet, California

 

Pearl-spotted Owlet, Zambia, Africa

 

Wikipedia overview on Owls.

 

With hundreds of owl species there are many exceptions, but for the most part, they are nocturnal birds. Carnivorous, preying on rodents, small mammals, and insects, many species can be seen hunting at dawn or dusk.

 

Although all owls have a similar shape, they vary widely in size. I have seen the world’s lightest owl, no bigger than the size of my hand, appropriately called the Elf Owl (in Arizona). They weigh 1.4 ounces (40 g). I’ve also seen the largest owl in Africa, the Giant Eagle Owl, pictured second above. It was 26 inches tall (66 cm).

 

Great Horned Owl, California

 

Barn Owl. Photo: Peter Trimming, British Wildlife Centre. Courtesy Wikipedia.

The most common owl worldwide is the barn owl, in a family of its own, Tytonidae.

 

You can’t hear a thing when an owl flies. Each leading feather is serrated, making the wingbeat silent. The rest of the flight feathers have soft, velvety edges absorbing any other sound during movement. This allows the owl to surprise and capture prey.

 

I’ve been out in the dark looking for owls when one has flown past me and I didn’t even know it.

 

Great Horned Owls, Alaska

 

Although owls are elusive and often camouflaged, it is possible to see them in the wild. I’ve provided two links, below, for locating the owls in your area.

 

I have spent many hours “owling” at night with guides, but have also found many species while hiking without a guide. They’re usually in the woods, you have to look up in the trees and be quiet. Cities with large parks have owls too.

 

A good way to become familiar with the owl species in your area is to visit your local raptor or bird rescue centers, they often rehabilitate injured owls. They may have information, too, where wild owls have been spotted.

 

I once lived near a small natural history museum–Randall Museum–in San Francisco, visited their permanently-injured owls frequently.

 

Great Horned Owl and owlet on nest, California

 

Rufous Owl, Australia

 

Our guide’s gear for owling, in Australia.

 

The subject of much folklore, owls have mystified humans for centuries. They are mesmerizing to watch, magical to hear, and possessing skills like no other bird.

 

When you do see an owl, you don’t forget it.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander, all owls in the wild (except Wikipedia barn owl)

The Owl Pages — owls worldwide. Enter your country in the Search bar.

owling.com — North and Central American owls

 

Mottled Owl, Belize, perched under a palm frond

 

Black and White Owl, Costa Rica

 

Range map of Owls of the World. Courtesy Wikipedia

 

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94 thoughts on “Owls All Around

  1. Amazing information and absolutely gorgeous captures by Alexander, dear Jet. On a field nearby hier in Cley we sometimes see the White Barn Owl in the late afternoon. It’s magic! And now, after having read you, even more. Once, a white barn wol followed us on our walk through the freshes. I felt blessed by the company. Such wonderful creatures.

    • Thanks very much, Fab Four, for your visit and warm comment. I, too, always feel blessed when an owl is nearby. Enjoyed hearing about your experiences with the barn owl in Cley, very much.

  2. Thank you! What an amazing variety of owls. Particularly like the giant eagle owl; has rather a sinister look! As you say, easy to see how myths develop, & certain characteristics are attributed to them.

  3. I loooove owls!!! 😍😍😍 I saw a Huuuge one here in India once, it was gorgeous! In Norway owls are considered to be very wise, various in India they are considered to be stupid πŸ˜„πŸ˜„πŸ˜„.

    • I enjoyed hearing about the different beliefs, Trini. In Africa they are considered harbingers of death. And love that you still remember the huge one you saw in India. Many thanks, Trini, always a joy to hear from you.

    • Enjoyed hearing about your owl appreciation, Sherry, and Leigh Calvez’s book looks great. They are a joy to have on this planet. Many thanks for your visit, and happy birding to you.

    • It’s a funny story whoooo gave me this idea, Teagan. The owls did. We’ve had a spate of hot weather lately and the windows are open all night long, and I hear owls calling, even dueting, almost every night. They told me it was time for an owl post. Enjoyed your spirited comment, Teagan, as always.

  4. So many species of owls! Whoooo knew? Apparently you and Athena did. So much variation in size and appearance I must say. Amazing that you have seen such variety on so many continents. My fave is the little owlet. Looks like something you might find in a small child’s playroom. Likely not too cuddly would be my guess.

    • That pearl-spotted owlet (which is really a full-size adult) eluded me for years. We had gone out time after time, hearing them, but never spotting them no matter how hard we tried. When I returned 5 years later, there was one in the daylight watching our group have lunch on the roadside. I, like you, think they’re adorable — so glad you enjoyed them, and as always, your visit is a treat, thank you.

  5. Glorious pictures Jet. As with many people the owl is my favourite bird (Oops, sorry, Budgerigars are my favourite bird aren’t they Joey?) starting with the barn owl at home here, I love to see them fly.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Your comment gave me a chuckle, David, with your quick recovery honoring Joey. They are a spectacular bird, I am happy you have a barn owl that drops by to dazzle you. Thanks ever so much for your visit and hugs, David, always a delight.

  6. Barn owls — and others I believe — traded water-proofing in their feathers for stealth flight. They are fantastic rodent managers, but they are heavily reliant upon human structures anymore, for protection from the elements.

    Love, love, LOVE this post with all Athena’s photos and superb information, links. You two make the best blog team!!

    • I was surprised when I put this post together how many owls we have seen, and how many Athena’s been able to photograph. It was really fun to create, and I am grateful for your very kind comment, Shannon. I saw my first barred owl years ago not far from the Houston area; we don’t forget our first sightings, do we Shannon. Great to have you stop by.

  7. Children of all ages love owls! Interesting to read in your post and the comments above how different cultures view these amazing birds. Your description of the Elf owl sent me to Owling.com, and aren’t they wonderful? Not that the others you’ve shared aren’t!
    Great post, Jet – an absolute hoot!

    • Great owl joke, pc, gave me a smile. That elf owl sighting was priceless. We were camping in Arizona and heard an insistent chattering, followed the noise and found it in a tree. Boy were we surprised to see such a tiny owl, and he was so loud. We pointed it out to other campers and we all had a fun time. I love it that you went to owling.com, pc, I’m glad you got to see this treasured feathered friend. Many smiles and good wishes to you–

  8. They are really quiet birds. The only time I spotted an owl in the wild was when it made calling sounds. I am sure we walked by many and didn’t know they were nearby. Thanks for an informative post, Jet.

    • Sometimes owl chicks on the nest can be demanding and vocal, and I have spotted them that way too. Your insight on owls on the trail was a pleasure to read here, Keng, thank you. All those trails you and David have been on, and only spotted an owl once…this shows how elusive this bird can be.

  9. It is always thrilling to see an owl. Mostly, I hear barred owls at night, often calling with a mate answering. A man in our town is a raptor rehabilitator and often gets owls from car collisions, sadly, but many recover and are returned to the wild.

    • Isn’t it so wonderful to hear owls calling at night? I’m glad to hear you have a raptor rehabilitator in your town, this is very fortunate for the raptors, and the humans too. Thank you, Eliza.

  10. I’m always surprised that there are so many varieties of different birds/animals. Awhile ago we had a great horned owl perched on a limb outside our bedroom. It’s HOOT nearly knocked us out of bed. It was quite scary. But also amusing when we figured out what it was. The barn owl is quite a looker!

    • Those GHO hoots are really loud! A pair of them dueting woke me up this week at 5:00am. The barn owl, on the other hand, is yes, very handsome, but their sound is not so rich as the GHO. They screech and hiss and sound far more scary than they are. I, too, was surprised there are so many owl species. Thanks so very much.

  11. Owls are wonderful, alright, and I’ve enjoyed this overview with its accompanying photographs. I’ve been fascinated with these birds for most of my life, and this summer I enjoyed the sight of little burrowing owls bunched together at a prairie dog hole. Thanks!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed today’s post on owls, Walt, and I really appreciated hearing about your sighting of the burrowing owls this summer. I’ve hung out at prairie dog holes waiting for burrowing owls, to no avail, but have seen them in other places. They are so adorable and fun to watch. Thanks very much.

  12. The photo of the Great Horned owlet is too cute… I just want to reach out and stroke its fluffy little feathers! 200 species of owls… wow!

    • Oh I know, Roslyn, isn’t he or she just adorable? Those big eyes and so much fluff. That nest was 300-400′ away on the other side of a steep gully, and it was a precarious effort to get there, but Athena was rewarded with that nest of owlets and the adult. Really great to “see” you, my friend, thanks for stopping by.

  13. These are all great hunters and strong birds. I’ve photographed some of them, however, I hear owls almost every night somewhere in my backyard ever since I moved to GA (12 years) I have never photographed and seen only once! Great post my friend. πŸ™‚

    • The hunting skills and abilities of owls are astounding, I agree, HJ. They are so tricky to photograph, since they’re tucked back in the tree, and it’s usually dark and the light should not be shined right on them, and they fly off *poof* in an instant. It takes two, one to manage the light, one to photograph. Just hearing them, as you know, is such a joy, and for me it’s also a feeling of solace. Great to hear from you, HJ, espec. since Irma was down in your part of the country. Take good care, my friend.

  14. So many owls in so many places! Thanks for all the information and great photos of owls. We had not realized how widespread the range of barn owls was until we were at Ta Prohn, one of the Angkor Wat sites, and looked up high into into a chimney-like part of the ruin. We saw 2 eyes peering back at us from up high. A barn owl!

    • I learned more about the owls than I knew before, due to the research for this post. So I, too, find them even more amazing now. And isn’t that a wonderful thing for both of us. Thanks so much, Bertie, a joy to hear from you.

  15. Have always liked the Owl. Even though I never see one around here I’ve thought that they are amazing creatures. I think of them as the “All Seeing, All Hearing, All Knowing, Owl.” It is true that you can really never hear them coming. They make no sound. They are hard to see in the wild. Nice Post, Jet.

    • I so agree with you, Les, they do seem to be All Knowing, don’t they? Even when an owl is sleeping, it’s still kind of looking at you. Thank you for your visit, I’m glad you enjoyed the owl post.

  16. Looks like a popular post, judging from the comments. Owls may be my favorite birds. I love leaving the back door open when I write and listening to the screech owls “singing” in the dark of morning. That kind of thing inspires a writer. We get the occasional Great Horned and barn owl too. Someone even photographed a snowy owl here once when they came far south. Used to have a nest of burrowing owls just off the lawn when I lived in Nevada.

    • Loved hearing about the owls you’ve cohabitated with, Craig. We, too, have the GHO and Western Screech Owls at night and dark mornings, and yes, they do inspire this writer, too. While in Washington State one year when snowy owls were near a place I was visiting, we spent a day looking for one, following leads, but never did find one. I would love to see a snowy. Enjoyed your comment, thank you.

  17. They are fabulous, aren’t they? I’ve never seen one in the wild but we have a couple of birds of prey centres, not too far from us, and I love seeing them. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ Wishing you a happy weekend, Jet!

    • I loved hearing about the owls whooo remind you of the Romeo and Juliet early morning scene, Jan. Sounds to me like a writer’s imagination, a wonderful thing. My best to you, and thank you for the visit and fun comment.

  18. Wonderful post and absolutely fabulous photos by Athena!πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing the great information and websites about a favorite bird that I have only seen at a local wildlife rescue center. It’s funny comparing the loud sound of a tiny hummingbird buzzing by and the silence of an owl flying (a fact I did not know and appreciate learning). After seeing all the photos during your daytime travels, I’m hoping someday to have the chance to finally see one. I’m not fond of wandering in the woods at night, but the way things are progressing that might happen one day. I loved all the photos and seeing all the different owls you have encountered on your travels and what are the odds I could be lucky enough to have the bat still living on my deck replaced with one of these wonderful nocturnal birds.πŸ™‚

    • I’m delighted that you enjoyed the owl post, ACI. I just looked, and in your state there have been 11 owls spotted, including the Great Gray, one of the most awesome birds in the world. The chances of you seeing a GG are not big, but there are four owls that are fairly common that you have a good chance of seeing: Barn, Barred, Eastern Screech, and Great Horned. The first two are more possible in the daytime than the last two. I know you are outside adventuring a lot, so on your adventures, if you’re near human structures like old barns or silos, keep your eye out for a barn owl. The Barred is there all year round, they roost and perch in tree cavities. Both species eat lots of mice, so they’ll most likely be near fields. Happy owling, my friend, and as always, thanks so much for your visit.

  19. There is something so mesmerizing about owls….I think it’s their eyes….I came face to face with one a number of years back at our house in San Diego…we were next to a filed and from our 2nd story we had a view overlooking the field towards the ocean. Off of our bedroom we had a deck that took in that view. I came home from work one day…went upstairs to change and went over to the sliding glass door to the deck and there sat a very large owl on the railing of the deck…looking into the field. It heard me and very slowly turned its head towards me…..unfazed, turned it’s attention back to the field…sat there for about 20 minutes. Awesome sight!! Great pics…great post…I already went on one of your links to check out the elf owl since they like the Sonora Desert….would love to see one…

    • I so enjoyed your owl experience, Kirt, thank you for taking the time to share it. Owls can be mysterious, like the one on your deck, didn’t even move. That was probably a great horned owl you saw. The elf owl is at the other end of the spectrum. They’re really small and cute, and even though the body is small, the eyes are still so big. I hope you do see one, you can find out from local Audubon groups in your area where and when they’re seeing the elf owls. In the meantime, what a lovely magical memory you have. Thanks very much.

  20. Thanks so much for another charming and informative post and for Athena’s images. It’s so hard to pick a favorite bird, but owls are definitely contenders. I loved watching the nest cams last summer. My favorite was watching a family of four Great Gray owlets from hatch to fledge. I hate to think of how many hours I must have spent watching over them.
    (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3efcxcS4MY)

    We’ve heard some owl hoots here at the new location, but they were pretty distant. My favorite memory of owls happened during one of the first trips Eric and I took together to Hells Canyon. We stayed at a lovely little cabin on the shore of Lake Wallowa and were thrilled to hear the owlets in a nearby nest begging to be fed for most of the night! πŸ™‚

    Heading over to your links now.

    • I am happy you enjoyed the owl post, Gunta, and as always, it was a pleasure to hear from you. Loved hearing your story about the begging owlets too. I went to the web cam link and can see the attraction, whew, a Great Gray is one that I just adored at a nature rehab center (had a broken wing), and still long to see in the wild. I’m not sure about the Explore people though, there are strict rules about keeping a light on owls so long, don’t want to ruin their sensitive night eyes, but hopefully there are long periods when they keep the light off for the owls’ safety. Always fun to “see” you, my friend, thank you.

  21. There’s something very special about owls and I loved reading about and seeing the pictures of all these different kinds of owls. I’ve heard the wonderful hoot of tawny owls many times if I’ve been in a country location, but I’ve only ever seen one wild owl in the flesh – I was a teenager at my aunt’s in the country and a tawny owl was perched on a chimney across the road – I still remember it clearly though it was now a long time ago.

    • This is the magic of owls. We don’t see them in the wild very often, but no matter how long ago it was, we clearly remember our experiences with them. Thanks so much, Andrea, I really enjoyed reading about your tawny hoots and perched tawny. I have never seen a tawny, what a treat that would be.

  22. Oh my gosh, you and I both blogged about owls last Friday = whoo knew? I love your post and learned a lot. My post is more poetic and I used another blogger’s photos (Cheryl Crotty) of owls. Yours is so educational – I’m sending your link to Cheryl.
    I lived in the SF bay area for a lot of time and never knew of the Randall Museum. If it’s still there, I’d love to visit it next time I return to my ‘home’ area.

  23. Owls are very beautiful creatures. Of course, this is easy for me to say as I’m not a small rodent. I have never seen one in real life. However, I had an aunt and uncle who had a basement rec room filled with stuffed owls, I hated going down there. It gave me the creeps.
    Excellent post.

    • Wow, Resa, that’s kind of a crazy story of your aunt and uncle’s rec room filled with stuffed owls. It is no wonder you haven’t seen one in the wild, I would be creeped out too. Glad to bring you the owls here, my friend, and always a treat to have you stop by.

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