Owls In Florida [7 Common Nocturnal Species]

owls in florida

Owls are one of the most interesting birds of prey with their huge eyes and comical facial expressions. If you live in Florida, you’re indeed fortunate to have a number of owl species that call this state home.

Let’s take a look at the various species of owls that you’re likely to come across in Florida.

7 Species Of Owls Commonly Found In Florida

There are 7 species of owls that inhabit the state of Florida. Here are some interesting facts about these magnificent birds of prey.

Species Scientific Name Height Weight Wingspan
Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus Up to 24.8 inches Up to 88.2 ounces Up to 57.1 inches
American Barn Owl Strix alba Up to 15.8 inches Up to 24.7 ounces Up to 49.2 inches
Short-Eared Owl Asio flammeus Up to 16.9 inches Up to 16.8 ounces Up to 40.5 inches
Eastern Screech Owl Magascops asio Up to 9.8 inches Up to 8.6 ounces Up to 24 inches
Barred Owl Strix varia Up to 19.7 inches Up to 37 ounces Up to 43.3 inches
Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia Up to 9.8 inches 5.3 ounces 21.6 inches
Northern Saw-Whet Owl Aegolius acadicus Up to 8.3 inches Up to 5.3 ounces Up to 18.9 inches

As you can see, the largest owl found in Florida is the Great Horned owl with a massive wingspan of 57 inches. Compare this to the smallest owl in this area, the Northern Saw-Whet owl which only has a wingspan of 18.9 inches.

Let’s look at these owl species individually and explain some of their more distinguishing features.

1. Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned owl is the most commonly found owl in Florida. You’ll find this owl primarily in semi-open forests where the trees are spread apart. Here are its most distinguishing features.

  • This owl has two large tufts on the top of its head that somewhat resemble horns.
  • It has quite an intimidating stare with its large yellow eyes with black irises that are ringed in brown. It really does look like its frowning at you.
  • When this bird is in flight, you might be in awe of its large wings that have light brown banded tips.
  • The chest of the Great Horned owl is also quite interesting with its speckles of dark and light brown intermixed with a little white.

The Great Horned owl prefers a diet of mammals and other birds. It’s quite a fierce bird of prey and can take down animals that are much larger than itself. If there are no larger mammals within range, this owl will also feast on mice, frogs and scorpions.

This majestic owl has few predators and is very good at adapting to its environment.

2. American Barn Owl

The American barn owl has the softest features and almost looks cuddly with its heart-shaped face and lovely soft eyes. Here are its most interesting features.

  • The barn owl has a heart-shaped face that is cream colored with a distinct brown border.
  • Its back feathers and wings are mottled in dark and light brown.
  • The chest of the barn owl is a light tan color with black spots.

Barn owls inhabit woodland areas, farms and definitely like to hang out in barns. Especially abandoned ones. Unfortunately, due to a major loss of habitat, these birds are becoming endangered and their numbers are dwindling.

Their diet consists mainly of small rodents which they swallow whole. This makes them a favorite with farmers as they keep local rats and mice under control.

3. Short-Eared Owl

The Short-eared owl is one of the most distributed owls in the world. Interestingly, this owl can be seen during the daytime as it hunts for food. Here’s how to tell this owl apart from the other species.

  • This owl does have ear tufts at the top of its head but they are so short that they’re almost invisible.
  • It has more of a round face that is white with a darker colored border.
  • Its eyes are golden yellow with large black irises.
  • The back feathers are mostly dark brown with spots of tan and white.

This owl prefers open fields and marshes and can often be found at airports. The movement caused by aircraft stirs up plenty of insects for these owls to feed on. The Short-eared owl mainly hunts at dusk and in the early morning. Apart from insects, these owls also like to feast on voles which are their favorite meal.

4. Eastern Screech Owl

The Eastern screech owl also has ear tufts on the top of its head but it’s much smaller than the Great horned owl and also has no neck. This makes the owl look quite short and stocky. Here are its most distinguishing features.

  • The tufts on top of its head look like ears.
  • These birds are masters of camouflage as their gray or brown feathers commonly blend in with the trees that they sit on.
  • They have rather innocent-looking eyes with large dark irises surrounded by a small ring of pale yellow.
  • One of their most interesting features is the high trill that they make which sounds like it came from a much larger bird.

These owls can commonly be found in backyard nesting boxes but can also inhabit other wooded areas. The Eastern screech owls are actually quite comfortable around humans and have been known to nest on top of streetlights or inside populated buildings.

These owls have a varied diet consisting mainly of moths, beetles, crickets and other large insects. They will also feast on other small birds, lizards, frogs and small mammals like rats and mice.

5. Barred Owl

The Barred owl is completely nocturnal and is one that can commonly be seen out hunting at night in Florida. Here’s how to identify it.

  • This owl is easily identified by the horizontal stripes on its wings, back and tail. These stripes are normally light and dark brown.
  • The barred owl also has a somewhat heart-shaped face that is white in color with a striped border of brown and white.
  • It has large black eyes and a distinctive yellow beak.

Barred owls are very inquisitive and love to watch humans from the trees above as they walk by underneath. Their preferred habitat includes large, mature forests but they have also been known to use backyard nesting boxes.

These owls mainly prefer to eat small mammals like mice, squirrels, rabbits, opossums and shrews. They also feast on frogs, small birds, lizards, snakes and some insects.

6. Burrowing Owl

As their name would suggest, Burrowing owls actually dig a hole in the ground where they will build their nests. Sometimes, they’ll also take over burrows made by other animals and use them as a storage for food.

An interesting fact about this owl species is that they will place animal manure around the entrance to their burrow to attract insects which they can then feed to their young. Here’s how to identify a Burrowing owl.

  • Unlike other owls, the burrowing owl has quite a flat head and large white “eyebrows” which give the bird a look of intelligence.
  • Their plumage is generally dark brown with white spots and patches.
  • The feathers around their eyes are dark brown also but the rest of their face is white. From a distance, this makes them look they’re wearing spectacles.

Burrowing owls prefer to live in deserts and grasslands. Their diet consists mainly of insects such as dung beetles.

7. Northern Saw-Whet Owl

This must be one of the cutest owls you’re likely to see. It’s quite small and dainty with big, bright eyes. Apart from its small size, here’s how to identify it.

  • The most distinguishing feature of the Northern Saw-whet owl is its call. It sounds very much like a blade that is being sharpened with a whetstone.
  • This owl has a round face that is mostly white but fringed with dark brown feathers.
  • The rest of its plumage is a combination of mid brown and white.
  • It has rather large eyes with large black irises that are ringed in golden yellow.

These diminutive owls are not that common and are mainly seen in winter in Florida. They prefer evergreen trees and will stay very close to the trunk of the tree just above eye-level. Their favorite meal is the deer mouse but because of the owl’s small size, one mouse is usually enough for two meals.

Final Thoughts

There are 7 species of owls commonly found in Florida. The most common of these, the Great-Horned owl is also the largest. Most owls are nocturnal and come out at dusk to hunt for prey. However, there are some that you may be able to spot during the day.

Once of the best ways to work out whether there are owls nearby is to listen for their distinctive calls. Also, if your local songbirds are a little agitated, it might well mean that there’s an owl in the area.

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