236 Types of Owls: A-Z Species List

Common and Rare Owl Species to Discover

Illustration showing the types of owls

The Spruce / Alison Czinkota

Owls are some of the most popular raptors, not only for their nocturnal habits and amazingly expressive faces, but also for their outstanding abilities and the many legends and superstitions that surround them. They are found worldwide, and it can be easier than many birders realize to go owling and add these remarkable birds to their life list. Furthermore, many owls are ideal ambassador birds at aviaries, zoos, wildlife rehabilitation facilities, and nature centers, so everyone can see them up close and get intimately familiar with their favorite owls.

Types of Owls

There are nearly 250 owl species in the world, divided into two families. Barn owls with their distinct heart-shaped facial disks make up the Tytonidae family, while all other owl species are in the Strigidae or typical owl family. It can seem like there are many more species, however, because many owls go by a number of different common names throughout their ranges. This makes it important to learn the scientific names of owls to be certain of ​proper identifications and not mistake one common name for an entirely different species.

While only a handful of owl species are classified as endangered, many species are vulnerable or threatened with drastic population declines. Several species have not been studied well enough to make a proper determination of their status, so the number of owls that may be in danger of extinction could be even higher. Local populations can also suffer severe threats in parts of their range but not be considered endangered or threatened worldwide. It is vital that conservation efforts be put in place to protect all owls to preserve these powerful and fascinating birds for future generations of birders to enjoy.

Owl Biology and Behavior

Owls are predatory birds from the Strigiforme order. The order is divided into two families: Strigidae (true owls) and Tytonidae (barn owls). Strigidae is the larger group, containing more than 200 species spread over 27 genera. The Tytonidae group includes fewer than 20 species, and most have characteristic heart-shaped facial patterns. The barn owl group also tends to have smaller heads than the true owls, as well as longer legs.

  • Solitary: Like most predator species of birds, owls generally live and hunt alone, except when breeding or raising young. If you see multiple birds together, they are probably a nesting pair or a mother coaching young owls through the fledgling phase.
  • Mostly nocturnal: Although there are exceptions, most owls are nocturnal hunters, or adapted to hunt in low-light situations during morning and evening twilight hours.
  • Skeletal adaptations: Owls have exceptionally flexible necks with 14 vertebrae that allow them to rotate their heads up to 270 degrees. This allows them to survey hunting territory while sitting virtually motionless and nearly invisible.
  • Specialized vision: Like most animals, owls possess two eyes that give them binocular vision, and like most birds, they are fixed in place so they must turn their heads to spot what they hear. Owls have eyes well adapted to night hunting, sensitive to the faintest light and movement.
  • Specialized hearing: Owls have a disc-like circle of feathers around each ear, which can be adjusted to focus on what they hear. The ears are fixed asymmetrically, which gives the birds a better ability to pinpoint noises. Combined with fixed eyes and very flexible necks, this allows owls to focus their senses on prey.
  • Specialized plumage: Owls have feathers that have evolved to be virtually silent in flight. Prey animals rarely know they're being hunted until it's too late. The coloring is well adapted to provide camouflage in the species' typical habitat.
  • Large, powerful talons: Because owls typically kill prey by crushing rather than with their beaks, the feet and talons are oversized and very strong compared to most other birds of prey. The beaks, though sharp, are not especially large. From species to species, the talons evolved to suit the hunting of the most prevalent game species, whether it be insects, mice, small fish, or other birds.

Owls in the United States

There are 19 species of owl currently found in the United States—a relatively small subset of the more than 200 species found worldwide. In alphabetical order, these are the owl species you may be lucky enough to spot in the U.S.

  • Barn owl (Tyto alba): This bird with solid white and brown markings can be found in limited numbers in the U.S. but is more prevalent in other parts of the world. It is 13 to 14 inches long and hunts nocturnally in meadows, deserts, and grasslands.
  • Barred owl (Strix varia): Native to eastern North America, this large owl (up to 23 inches long) has an overall grayish brown color with mottle bars of darker color. It is a very vocal bird, sometimes known regionally as a hoot owl. It is considered invasive in the western U.S., where it competes with the endangered spotted owl. It is the most common owl found in the U.S.
  • Boreal owl (Aegolius funereus): This smallish owl (8 to 11 inches) is found in the far northern U.S. and Canada. It is brown in color, with piercing yellow eyes.
  • Burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia): This is a small, increasingly rare bird that nests in ground hollows. It is a long-legged bird 7 to 10 inches long that can be seen in the western U.S. hopping around meadows and grasslands.
  • Eastern screech owl (Megascops asio): This reddish brown owl with visible ear tufts is 6 to 10 inches long and fairly common in the eastern United States. It readily adapts to human development, but is such a strict nocturnal hunter that it is rarely seen.
  • Elf owl (Micrathene Whitneyi): This very small, very rare owl is barely larger than a sparrow, with yellow eyes highlighted with white "eyebrows." A dedicated watcher may be able to spot it in the Southwest, where it often nests in saguaro cactus plants or woodpecker hollows in dead trees.
  • Ferruginous pygmy-owl (Glaucidium brasilianum): This is a widespread tropical species that is sometimes spotted in far southern Texas and Arizona. It is a small 6-inch bird with rusty brown coloring, often seen hunting lizards and other small animals in the daytime.
  • Flammulated owl (Otus flammeolus): This 6-inch owl has a dark gray color and eyes that are nearly black. It is a migratory owl that can be spotted in the western United States during the summer breeding season.
  • Great gray owl (Strix nebulosa): This is one of the largest owls, with a wingspan up to five feet. It is easily identified by its large round face and yellow eyes. They can often be spotted in the boreal forests of the northern United States, from the Great Lakes to Washington. Its numbers are threatened by habitat loss, primarily from the timber industry.
  • Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus): This large owl (up to 25 inches) with prominent upright ear tufts still thrives in large numbers across most of North America. Once seriously threatened by indiscriminate use of DDT, the great horned owl has made a remarkable resurgence and can often be spotted nesting in urban parks.
  • Long-eared owl (Asio otus): This is a fairly slim-bodied owl with long wings, tawny brown or gray in color, 13 to 16 inches long. It has very prominent upright ear tufts. It is listed as an endangered species, as its numbers have fallen 91% since 1970. In the United States, you might spot one in the northern regions, especially Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
  • Northern hawk owl (Surnia ulula): This is a medium-sized (14- to 17-inch) owl that can be found hunting in the daylight in the boreal forests of the far northern United States and Canada. It is dark brown with off-white spotting. Its population is not large, so count yourself lucky if you spot one.
  • Northern pygmy owl (Glaucidium californicum): Native to the western United States, this small (6- to 7-inch) owl is gray to brownish gray in color. It has a white spotted head and yellow eyes. The lower body has vertical brown streaking. It hunts both at night and in the twilight hours. It has a relatively small population, so spotting one is a notable event.
  • Northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus): Earning its name because its call sounds like a saw being sharpened, this 7- to 8-inch owl can be found in many parts of the U.S. during different migration phases, but year-round in the Northern United States and mountain states. It is easily identified by its round white face with radiating brown streaks. Its numbers are healthy, and you may well spot one in dense forest thickets, often at eye level.
  • Short-eared owl (Asio flammeus): This is a hunter that favors marshlands and prairies across North America. It is a medium-sized owl that displays small ear tufts when on alert. Tawny mottled brown in color, the eyes are orange-yellow, circled with black. Though listed as endangered is certain areas, your chances are good of seeing one in open areas with high rodent populations. It has an erratic flight pattern, much like a bat.
  • Snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus): This increasingly rare owl is found in the far northern regions of the continental United States and Canada. Regarded by some as the prettiest owl of all species, it is often pure white, though females have streaks of brown. It is a very large owl, as much as 25 inches long, with feathers that cover the legs, feet, and toes. It often hunts during the day but can be hard to spot against snowy terrain.
  • Spotted owl (Strix occidentalis): This is the rarest of all North American owls, found only in old-growth forests of the western U.S. Averaging about 18 inches in length, it is often confused for the barred owl, which is displacing it. It is browner in color than the grayish barred owl, with a lighter round face encircled with brown rings. The eyes are deep black. Count yourself lucky if you spot one; the total population is estimated at 15,000 and falling.
  • Western screech owl (Megascops kennicottii): Found in western forests, this smallish (8- to 10-inch) bird is brown or gray in color, with visible streaks. It has a round head and yellow beak and eyes, with very obvious ear tufts. It is an aggressive hunter, known to catch ducks and fish larger than itself.
  • Whiskered screech owl (Megascops trichopsis): This extremely rare owl is thought to number no more than 500 individuals found in Mexico and the far southeastern edges of Arizona. It is 6 to 8 inches in length, a brownish-gray bird with streaking. The head is round, and the beak and eyes, yellow. It is often confused with the western screech owl but is slightly smaller with heavier barring on the breast.
Spotted Owl - Strix occidentalis
step2626 / Getty Images
Woodland Park Zoo welcomed a pair of snowy owl chicks

Dennis Dow / Woodland Park Zoo

Close-up of western screech owl
Screech owls can their species apart due to their sounds.

Tamara Kulikova / Shutterstock

Barred Owl

Adria Photography / Getty Images

Great horned owl
Great horned owl

www.harshadventure.com / Getty Images

Alphabetical List of Owl Species Sorted by Common Name

* - Considered threatened or vulnerable due to population decreases and growing survival threats
** - Listed as endangered and in critical danger of extinction if conservation is not implemented (Classifications by BirdLife International)

Tytonidae Owls

Here are the 16 owl species that comprise the Tytonidae family, commonly known as the barn owl family. Only the common barn owl is commonly found in North America:

  • African Grass-Owl (Tyto capensis)
  • Ashy-Faced Owl (Tyto glaucops)
  • Australian Masked-Owl (Tyto novaehollandiae)
  • Common Barn-Owl (Tyto alba)
  • **Congo Bay-Owl (Phodilus prigoginei)
  • Eastern Grass-Owl (Tyto longimembris)
  • *Golden Masked-Owl (Tyto aurantia)
  • Greater Sooty-Owl (Tyto tenebricosa)
  • Lesser Sooty-Owl (Tyto multipunctata)
  • *Madagascar Red Owl (Tyto soumagnei)
  • *Minahassa Masked-Owl (Tyto inexspectata)
  • Oriental Bay-Owl (Phodilus badius)
  • Seram Masked-Owl (Tyto almae)
  • Sri Lanka Bay-Owl (Phodilus assimilis)
  • Sulawesi Masked-Owl (Tyto rosenbergii)
  • *Taliabu Masked-Owl (Tyto nigrobrunnea)
African Grass-Owl
African Grass-Owl

Derek Keats / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Strigidae Owls

Here are 220 additional owl species from the Strigidae order, known as the true owls. Most North American owls fall into this group:

  • African Barred Owlet (Glaucidium capense)
  • African Long-Eared Owl (Asio abyssinicus)
  • African Scops-Owl (Otus senegalensis)
  • African Wood-Owl (Strix woodfordii)
  • Akun Eagle-Owl (Bubo leucostictus)
  • *Albertine Owlet (Glaucidium albertinum)
  • Amazonian Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium hardyi)
  • Andaman Boobook (Ninox affinis)
  • Andaman Scops-Owl (Otus balli)
  • Andean Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium jardinii)
  • **Anjouan Scops-Owl (Otus capnodes)
  • **Annobon Scops-Owl (Otus feae)
  • Arabian Scops-Owl (Otus pamelae)
  • Asian Barred Owlet (Glaucidium cuculoides)
  • Austral Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium nana)
  • Baja Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium hoskinsii)
  • Balsas Screech-Owl (Megascops seductus)
  • Band-Bellied Owl (Pulsatrix melanota)
  • *Banggai Scops-Owl (Otus mendeni)
  • Bare-Legged Screech-Owl (Margarobyas lawrencii)
  • Bare-Shanked Screech-Owl (Megascops clarkii)
  • Barking Owl (Ninox connivens)
  • Barred Eagle-Owl (Bubo sumatranus)
  • Barred Owl (Strix varia)
  • *Bearded Screech-Owl (Megascops barbarus)
  • *Biak Scops-Owl (Otus beccarii)
  • Bismarck Boobook (Ninox variegata)
  • Black-and-White Owl (Ciccaba nigrolineata)
  • Black-Banded Owl (Ciccaba huhula)
  • Black-Capped Screech-Owl (Megascops atricapilla)
  • **Blakiston's Eagle-Owl (Bubo blakistoni)
  • Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus)
  • Brown Boobook (Ninox scutulata)
  • Brown Fish-Owl (Ketupa zeylonensis)
  • Brown Wood-Owl (Strix leptogrammica)
  • Buff-Fronted Owl (Aegolius harrisii)
  • Buffy Fish-Owl (Ketupa ketupu)
  • Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)
  • Buru Boobook (Ninox hantu)
  • **Camiguin Boobook (Ninox leventisi)
  • Cape Eagle-Owl (Bubo capensis)
  • **Cebu Boobook (Ninox rumseyi)
  • Central American Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium griseiceps)
  • Chaco Owl (Strix chacoensis)
  • Chestnut Owlet (Glaucidium castaneum)
  • *Chestnut-Backed Owlet (Glaucidium castanotum)
  • *Chocolate Boobook (Ninox randi)
  • *Christmas Boobook (Ninox natalis)
  • Cinnabar Boobook (Ninox ios)
  • Cinnamon Screech-Owl (Megascops petersoni)
  • *Cloudforest Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium nubicola)
  • *Cloudforest Screech-Owl (Megascops marshalli)
  • Colima Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium palmarum)
  • Collared Owlet (Glaucidium brodiei)
  • Collared Scops-Owl (Otus lettia)
  • *Colombian Screech-Owl (Megascops colombianus)
  • Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium costaricanum)
  • Crested Owl (Lophostrix cristata)
  • Cuban Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium siju)
  • Desert Tawny Owl (Strix hadorami)
  • Dusky Eagle-Owl (Bubo coromandus)
  • Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio)
  • Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi)
  • *Enggano Scops-Owl (Otus enganensis)
  • Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo bubo)
  • Eurasian Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium passerinum)
  • Eurasian Scops-Owl (Otus scops)
  • *Fearful Owl (Nesasio solomonensis)
  • Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum)
  • Flammulated Owl (Psiloscops flammeolus)
  • **Flores Scops-Owl (Otus alfredi)
  • **Forest Owlet (Heteroglaux blewitti)
  • Fraser's Eagle-Owl (Bubo poensis)
  • Fulvous Owl (Strix fulvescens)
  • *Giant Scops-Owl (Otus gurneyi)
  • **Grand Comoro Scops-Owl (Otus pauliani)
  • Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa)
  • Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
  • Greyish Eagle-Owl (Bubo cinerascens)
  • *Guadalcanal Boobook (Ninox granti)
  • Guatemalan Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium cobanense)
  • Guatemalan Screech-Owl (Megascops guatemalae)
  • Halmahera Boobook (Ninox hypogramma)
  • Himalayan Owl (Strix nivicolum)
  • Hume's Boobook (Ninox obscura)
  • Indian Scops-Owl (Otus bakkamoena)
  • Jamaican Owl (Pseudoscops grammicus)
  • Japanese Scops-Owl (Otus semitorques)
  • Javan Owlet (Glaucidium castanopterum)
  • *Javan Scops-Owl (Otus angelinae)
  • Jungle Boobook (Ninox theomacha)
  • Jungle Owlet (Glaucidium radiatum)
  • Koepcke's Screech-Owl (Megascops koepckeae)
  • *Least Boobook (Ninox sumbaensis)
  • Least Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium minutissimum)
  • Little Owl (Athene noctua)
  • Long-Tufted Screech-Owl (Megascops sanctaecatarinae)
  • **Long-Whiskered Owlet (Xenoglaux loweryi)
  • Luzon Boobook (Ninox philippensis)
  • *Luzon Highland Scops-Owl (Otus longicornis)
  • Luzon Lowland Scops-Owl (Otus megalotis)
  • Madagascar Long-Eared Owl (Asio madagascariensis)
  • Madagascar Scops-Owl (Otus rutilus)
  • Magellanic Horned Owl (Bubo magellanicus)
  • *Makira Boobook (Ninox roseoaxillaris)
  • *Malaita Boobook (Ninox malaitae)
  • Maned Owl (Jubula lettii)
  • *Mantanani Scops-Owl (Otus mantananensis)
  • Manus Boobook (Ninox meeki)
  • Marsh Owl (Asio capensis)
  • Mayotte Scops-Owl (Otus mayottensis)
  • *Mentawai Scops-Owl (Otus mentawi)
  • *Mindanao Boobook (Ninox spilocephala)
  • *Mindanao Highland Scops-Owl (Otus mirus)
  • Mindanao Lowland Scops-Owl (Otus everetti)
  • *Mindoro Boobook (Ninox mindorensis)
  • *Mindoro Scops-Owl (Otus mindorensis)
  • **Moheli Scops-Owl (Otus moheliensis)
  • Moluccan Scops-Owl (Otus magicus)
  • Morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae)
  • Mottled Owl (Ciccaba virgata)
  • Mottled Wood-Owl (Strix ocellata)
  • Mountain Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma)
  • Mountain Scops-Owl (Otus spilocephalus)
  • *New Britain Boobook (Ninox odiosa)
  • Nicobar Scops-Owl (Otus alius)
  • Northern Boobook (Ninox japonica)
  • Northern Hawk-Owl (Surnia ulula)
  • Northern Long-Eared Owl (Asio otus)
  • Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium californicum)
  • Northern Saw-Whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)
  • Northern White-Faced Owl (Ptilopsis leucotis)
  • *Ochre-Bellied Boobook (Ninox ochracea)
  • Omani Owl (Strix omanensis)
  • Oriental Scops-Owl (Otus sunia)
  • Pacific Screech-Owl (Megascops cooperi)
  • Palau Owl (Pyrroglaux podargina)
  • *Palawan Scops-Owl (Otus fuliginosus)
  • Pallid Scops-Owl (Otus brucei)
  • Papuan Boobook (Uroglaux dimorpha)
  • Pearl-Spotted Owlet (Glaucidium perlatum)
  • Pel's Fishing-Owl (Scotopelia peli)
  • *Pemba Scops-Owl (Otus pembaensis)
  • **Pernambuco Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium mooreorum)
  • Peruvian Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium peruanum)
  • Peruvian Screech-Owl (Megascops roboratus)
  • Pharaoh Eagle-Owl (Bubo ascalaphus)
  • *Philippine Eagle-Owl (Bubo philippensis)
  • Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua)
  • Puerto Rican Screech-Owl (Megascops nudipes)
  • Rajah Scops-Owl (Otus brookii)
  • Red-Chested Owlet (Glaucidium tephronotum)
  • *Reddish Scops-Owl (Otus rufescens)
  • *Rinjani Scops-Owl (Otus jolandae)
  • Rock Eagle-Owl (Bubo bengalensis)
  • *Romblon Boobook (Ninox spilonotus)
  • Rufescent Screech-Owl (Megascops ingens)
  • *Rufous Fishing-Owl (Scotopelia ussheri)
  • Rufous Owl (Ninox rufa)
  • Rufous-Banded Owl (Ciccaba albitarsis)
  • Rufous-Legged Owl (Strix rufipes)
  • *Rusty-Barred Owl (Strix hylophila)
  • *Ryukyu Scops-Owl (Otus elegans)
  • Sandy Scops-Owl (Otus icterorhynchus)
  • Sangihe Scops-Owl (Otus collari)
  • *Sao Tome Scops-Owl (Otus hartlaubi)
  • Seram Boobook (Ninox squamipila)
  • **Serendib Scops-Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni)
  • **Seychelles Scops-Owl (Otus insularis)
  • *Shelley's Eagle-Owl (Bubo shelleyi)
  • Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
  • **Siau Scops-Owl (Otus siaoensis)
  • *Simeulue Scops-Owl (Otus umbra)
  • Sjostedt's Owlet (Glaucidium sjostedti)
  • *Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
  • Socotra Scops-Owl (Otus socotranus)
  • **Sokoke Scops-Owl (Otus ireneae)
  • Southern Boobook (Ninox boobook)
  • Southern White-Faced Owl (Ptilopsis granti)
  • Speckled Boobook (Ninox punctulata)
  • Spectacled Owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata)
  • Spot-Bellied Eagle-Owl (Bubo nipalensis)
  • Spotted Eagle-Owl (Bubo africanus)
  • *Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis)
  • Spotted Owlet (Athene brama)
  • Spotted Wood-Owl (Strix seloputo)
  • Striped Owl (Asio clamator)
  • Stygian Owl (Asio stygius)
  • Subtropical Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium parkeri)
  • *Sula Scops-Owl (Otus sulaensis)
  • Sulawesi Scops-Owl (Otus manadensis)
  • *Sulu Boobook (Ninox reyi)
  • *Sumba Boobook (Ninox rudolfi)
  • Sunda Scops-Owl (Otus lempiji)
  • *Tamaulipas Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium sanchezi)
  • Tanimbar Boobook (Ninox forbesi)
  • Tasmanian Boobook (Ninox leucopsis)
  • Tawny Fish-Owl (Ketupa flavipes)
  • Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)
  • Tawny-Bellied Screech-Owl (Megascops watsonii)
  • Tawny-Browed Owl (Pulsatrix koeniswaldiana)
  • *Togian Boobook (Ninox burhani)
  • Tropical Screech-Owl (Megascops choliba)
  • Tucuman Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium tucumanum)
  • Unspotted Saw-Whet Owl (Aegolius ridgwayi)
  • Ural Owl (Strix uralensis)
  • Vermiculated Fishing-Owl (Scotopelia bouvieri)
  • Vermiculated Screech-Owl (Megascops vermiculatus)
  • Verreaux's Eagle-Owl (Bubo lacteus)
  • *Visayan Scops-Owl (Otus nigrorum)
  • Wallace's Scops-Owl (Otus silvicola)
  • West Solomons Boobook (Ninox jacquinoti)
  • Western Screech-Owl (Megascops kennicottii)
  • Wetar Scops-Owl (Otus tempestatis)
  • Whiskered Screech-Owl (Megascops trichopsis)
  • White-Browed Owl (Athene superciliaris)
  • *White-Fronted Scops-Owl (Otus sagittatus)
  • White-Throated Screech-Owl (Megascops albogularis)
  • Yungas Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium bolivianum)
  • Yungas Screech-Owl (Megascops hoyi)
Pearl-Spotted Owlet
Pearl-Spotted Owlet

Derek Keats / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Strigiformes. Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.

  2. Long-Eared Owl Conservation. Owl Research Institute.