Known as a symbol of wisdom, helpfulness, and prophecy, owls can be found in the history and mythology of cultures the world over. Once thought of as an omen of death or bad luck, these fascinating (mostly) nocturnal creatures are now thought of as the beautiful and majestic birds of prey they are.
Throughout North America, you can find a number of owl species in every habitat imaginable. Florida is no stranger to owls either, as it’s a stopover for migratory species and many owls that live there year-round. Read on to learn about all the owl species that have been spotted in Florida.
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7 Species of Owls in Florida
1. Eastern-screech Owl
Screech owls are about the same size as robins.
On average, they stand between 6.3 to 9.8 in (16 to 25 cm) in height, weigh 4.3-8.6 oz (121 to 244 g), and have a wingspan between 18.9 to 24.0 in (48 to 61 cm).
Most screech owls are either mostly gray or reddish-brown. They have bands and spots that help them blend into tree bark, giving them great camouflage. These owls have sharp ear tufts and typically have yellow eyes.
Screech owls are most active at night, but you usually hear them instead of seeing them. They’re the owls that make the stereotypical shrill sound. When you do spot one, most of the time it’s when they’re sitting in the entrance of their roost; usually in a bird box or hole in a tree.
Eastern screech owls get their name from their range. You can find them across the Eastern half of North America, from parts of Canada and Mexico. Pretty much anywhere with enough tree cover can be a good enough habitat for these owls.
Eastern screech owls have a varied diet of small animals including birds, mammals, earthworms, insects, crayfish, tadpoles, frogs, and all kinds of lizards. They depend on holes in trees for nests, usually laying a single brood of 1-6 eggs each year.
Eastern screech owls adjust well to humans, even in urban environments as long as they have trees. They have an estimated breeding population numbering 900,000 and are not currently considered at risk of extinction.
2. Barn Owl
Barn owls are about the same size as crows.
On average, they stand between 12.6 to 15.8 inches (32 to 40 cm) in height, weigh 14.1 to 24.7 oz (400 to 700 grams), and have a wingspan between 39.4 to 49.2 inches (100 to 125 cm).
They have a rather pale color pattern with dark eyes. The face, underwing, and belly are generally a shade of white, while their backs are a mottled brown with gray feathers. When they’re most active at night, they can appear entirely white.
Barn owls have a distinct flying pattern and dive down from perches or mid-flight to seize prey. Most of their diet is made up of small mammals like rodents, but they occasionally take down smaller birds like starlings, blackbirds, and meadowlarks.
You can find barn owls across the entirety of the contiguous United States and in some parts of Canada and Latin America. They tend to prefer meadows and grasslands, making their nests inside holes in trees, on cliffsides, human structures like barns, or even burrows in riverbanks.
Barn owls can lay between 2 and 18 eggs each brooding period. The hatchlings are cared for by their parents in a nest made of regurgitated owl pellets for 50-55 days. From that point, they can usually take care of themselves.
It’s estimated that the breeding population of barn owls in their native range is around 2 million and they’re not considered threatened by extinction.
3. Great Horned Owl
Great horned owls are larger than red-tailed hawks.
They stand between 18.1-24.8 in (46-63 cm) in height, weigh between 32.1-88.2 oz (910-2500 g) and have a wingspan that averages between 39.8-57.1 in (101-145 cm).
Most great horned owls are a shade of mottled gray, have a brown face, and a white spot on their throats. They can vary from pale shades to charcoal or ashen colors.
They have a call that usually consists of four to five deep hoots. While nocturnal in nature, you can spot them flying over open fields or sitting on perches around dusk and dawn.
You can find these owls in all kinds of habitats, from the snowy arctic areas of northern Canada to the mountains of South America and the Swamps of the southeastern United States. They tend to be found most frequently in young tree growths.
Thanks to their size, great horned owls can take much larger prey than most other owl species. They regularly feed on raptors and other owls, as well as smaller animals such as mice, frogs, scorpions, and large insects.
Breeding pairs may roost separately, but they defend their nests from predators that include focus, coyotes, lynx, and other birds. Global breeding population estimates around six million individuals, though regional population numbers fluctuate with available prey species numbers.
4. Barred Owl
Smaller than the great horned owl but larger than the barn owl.
Barred owls are easy to pick out thanks to their call. Their hooting pattern sounds almost like “Who cooks for you?”
They stand between 16.9 to 19.7 in (43 to 50 cm) in height, weigh between 16.6 to 37.0 oz (470 to 1050 g) and have a wingspan averaging between 39.0 to 43.3 in (99 to 110 cm).
Barred owls are a mottled brown color, but get their name from the vertical bars that line their undersides. They have pale white feathers interspersed with the brown ones, large black eyes, and yellow beaks.
Barred owls hunt at night, but can be heard calling when they’re roosting during the day. In most cases, they choose to live near water and prefer old-growth forests. Their range includes the entire east coast of the United States, along the US and Canadian border, and the Pacific Northwest.
Most of a barred owl’s diet is made of small animals like rodents, invertebrates, and amphibians. They’ll also take smaller birds, fish, and crayfish, and have even been known to wade into shallow water in search of prey.
While sensitive to logging enterprises, barred owls aren’t considered to be threatened with extinction. Global population estimates put them at around 3 million breeding individuals.
5. Short-eared Owl
Short-eared owls are larger than rock pigeons but smaller than great horned owls.
They stand around 13.4 to 16.9 in (34 to 43 cm) in height, weigh between 7.3 to 16.8 oz (206 to 475 g) and have a wingspan that averages between 33.5 to 40.5 in (85 to 103 cm).
These owls are mostly brown, with more white on their upper regions. They have pale faces with dark eyes, streaked breasts, and a pale underside. Most of them have a comma-shaped spot on their wing undersides.
The natural habitat of these owls is wide open prairies, fields, and grasslands. They tend not to be found in thick forests. Unlike the other owls on the list so far, short-eared owls tend to be migratory species. Their range extends across North America, however, they breed in Northern Regions and feed in the south.
The vast majority of short-eared owls’ diet is made up of small mammals like rodents. They’re also known to hunt down birds, including gulls, terns, and songbirds. Most of the time, they decapitate their prey before eating them and remove the wings from any birds they bring down.
Estimates put the global breeding population of short-eared owls at around 3 million. Local and regional populations can fluctuate greatly depending on the time of year and the population of small mammal prey species.
6. Burrowing Owl
Burrowing owls are roughly between the size of a robin and a crow.
They stand between 7.5 to 9.8 in (19 to 25 cm) in height, weigh around 5.3 oz (150 g), and have an average wingspan around 21.6 in (55 cm).
Burrowing owls are easy to recognize thanks to their behaviors and some special features. While they are another mostly brown owl, they have extremely long legs in comparison to their body. They also tend to be found on the ground, walking instead of flying as they hunt their prey during the daytime.
The burrowing owls in Florida stay year-round and are considered a subspecies of the larger populations. They tend to have more white spots in their plumage than their western cousins. Most of them live in breeding pairs in burrows that can be dug out in the earth, inside culverts, along golf courses, or in agricultural areas.
They still eat small mammals, as their populations tend to gravitate towards areas that have other burrowing animals such as voles, moles, mice, and shrews. The bulk of their diet is made up of invertebrates, especially insects.
Burrowing owls are considered endangered in Canada and have special protection in Mexico, though global population estimates number their breeding individuals around 2 million.
7. Snowy Owl (Sometimes)
Snowy owls are the largest owl species in North America by weight and have stunningly white plumage.
They stand between 20.5 to 27.9 in (52 to 71 cm) in height, weigh between 56.4 to 104.1 oz (1600 to 2950 g) and average a wingspan between 49.6 to 57.1 in (126-145 cm).
As they age, snowy owls tend to get more and more white. They can have a salt and pepper kind of plumage, but this is mostly for females and younger owls. They have large yellow eyes and though mostly white, they can have any number of brown or black flecks in their plumage.
Most of the time, snowy owls are found in the Northern region of North America, with most of their population residing in or migrating through Canada. They’re on this list because they have appeared in Florida, but why or how they got there is mostly a mystery.
You’ll mostly find these owls in wide-open tundra areas, where most of their diet is made up of lemmings. Sometimes, they also take ptarmigan and waterfowl as well. They tend to perch on slightly raised spots and scan the fields for prey.
Snowy owls can be migratory and they spend most of their time in remote regions where it’s difficult to gauge population sizes. Global breeding populations are estimated to stand around 200,000. They have special protections against hunting and trapping throughout Canada and the United States.
Florida Owls Fun Facts
For the most part, owls aren’t considered to be endangered species worldwide. They tend to do well even in urban environments and most of them can adjust to the presence of humans.
The most impactful factor that influences the owl population is the prey population. The decimation of small mammals can lead to regional disruption in owl numbers, whether that’s through localized extinction or migration away from the area.
Human intervention can harm owls. Logging removes much of the forest and dead trees that owls depend on for their nesting sites. Pollution and runoff of agricultural pesticides can kill off or build up in owl prey species.
You can help by setting up nesting boxes in your yard or outside of your home. You can learn how to build a simple box here. These boxes give owls options for homes that could otherwise be unavailable in urban areas and can help alleviate the disruption in their populations.