10 Types of Owls: From Tiny Screech-owls to Great Horned Owls

By: Yara Simón  | 
Great horned owl
Great horned owl. Matt Dirksen / Getty Images
Key Takeaways
  • Owls are nocturnal birds known for their silent flight and distinctive hooting, with around 200 species found worldwide.
  • They range from small screech-owls to large great horned owls, each adapted to various habitats.
  • Owls face threats like habitat loss, but conservation efforts are crucial to their survival.

Owls are captivating birds known for their nocturnal habits, distinctive hooting calls and remarkable ability to hunt in near silence. With about 200 species found worldwide, these birds of prey come in various sizes and colors. Here, we dig in to 10 types of owls.


1. Barn Owls

Barn owl
Barn owl. zahoor salmi / Getty Images
  • Scientific name: Tyto alba
  • Habitat: Found globally in open country, grasslands and agricultural areas
  • Key characteristics: Heart-shaped facial disc, pale plumage and excellent low-light vision

Barn owls have distinctive, pale faces. Facial discs help these exceptional hunters funnel sound to their ears, allowing them to locate prey with precision, even in complete darkness. The barn own is about the same size as a crow (which is smaller than a raven).


2. Snowy Owls

Snowy owl
Snowy owl. Copyright Michael Cummings / Getty Images
  • Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Habitat: Arctic tundra, open fields and marshes
  • Key characteristics: White plumage with dark markings, large size and intense yellow eyes

The snowy owl is an icon of the Arctic, perfectly adapted to the snowy surroundings. They are highly nomadic, sometimes venturing south during periods of food scarcity in the Arctic Circle. The female owls of this species typically has a greater abundance of dark markings than the male owls.


3. Great Horned Owls

Great horned owl
Great horned owl. Mark Newman / Getty Images
  • Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
  • Habitat: Diverse habitats including forests, deserts and urban areas
  • Key characteristics: Prominent "horns" or ear tufts, large size and a varied diet including mammals, birds and reptiles

The great horned owl is among the largest and most adaptable owl species. Their hooting calls resonate through the night, signaling their presence in a wide range of environments. In North America, this is the most common owl.


4. Eastern Screech-owls

Eastern screech owl
Eastern screech owl. Scott Suriano / Getty Images
  • Scientific name: Megascops asio
  • Habitat: Woodlands, parks and suburban areas
  • Key characteristics: Small size and a remarkable ability to blend into tree bark.

The Eastern screech-owl is elusive and often goes unnoticed due to its exceptional camouflage abilities. It is similar in size to a robin and typically seen in shades of gray, red or brown.


5. Western Screech-owls

Western screech-owl
Western screech-owl. James Hager / robertharding / Getty Images/Collection Mix: Sub
  • Scientific name: Megascops kennicottii
  • Habitat: Forests, woodlands, urban parks and areas near rivers or streams
  • Key characteristics: Small birds with camouflaged plumage.

These birds look similar to the Eastern screech-owl, but they are classified as different species with a unique sound.


6. Whiskered Screech-owls

Whiskered screech owl
Whiskered screech owl. Joe McDonald / Getty Images
  • Scientific name: Megascops trichopsis
  • Habitat: Canyons, woodlands and forests
  • Key characteristics: Prominent "ear" tufts and intricate patterning

The whiskered screech-owl has distinctive facial markings that resemble whiskers or bristles. These markings are often visible on the sides of the face.


7. Burrowing Owls

Burrowing owls
Burrowing owls. Troy Harrison / Getty Images
  • Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
  • Habitat: Open grasslands, deserts and prairies
  • Key characteristics: Long legs, distinctive head-bobbing behavior and a preference for nesting in burrows

The burrowing owl has a unique habitat, often residing in abandoned burrows of mammals.


8. Long-eared Owls

Long-eared owl
Long-eared owl. Peter Adams / Getty Images
  • Scientific name: Asio otus
  • Habitat: Woodlands, coniferous forests and marshes
  • Key characteristics: Long "ear" tufts, a slender appearance and a preference for roosting in dense foliage

The long-eared owl has a graceful appearance and striking tufts that resemble ears. These owls hunt small mammals in wooded areas.


9. Northern Hawk Owls

Northern hawk owl
Northern hawk owl. Stan Tekiela Author / Naturalist / Getty Images
  • Scientific name: Surnia ulula
  • Habitat: Northern forests, especially coniferous woodlands.
  • Key characteristics: Hawk-like appearance, diurnal hunting habits and exceptional agility in flight

The Northern hawk owl stands out for its diurnal hunting behavior, actively searching for prey during daylight hours. Their adaptability sets them apart from typical owls.


10. Barred Owls: Hoots in the Heart of Forests

barred owl
Barred owl. Scott Suriano / Getty Images
  • Scientific name: Strix varia
  • Habitat: Dense woodlands, swamps and wooded urban areas
  • Key characteristics: Dark eyes, horizontal barring on the chest and a haunting hooting call

The barred owl is a vocal members of the owl family, often making its presence known with distinct hoots. Their dark eyes and barred plumage contribute to their mysterious allure.

Conservation Challenges

Owls face various challenges, including habitat loss and illegal hunting. Conservation efforts, such as those led by organizations like the American Bird Conservancy, play a crucial role in preserving owl species and their habitats.

This article was created in conjunction with AI technology, then was fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do owls adapt to urban environments?
Owls adapt to urban environments by utilizing parks and green spaces for hunting and nesting, and they often prey on rodents.
What do owls do during the daytime?
During the daytime, most owls roost in secluded, shaded areas to avoid predators and disturbances.