9 Types of Owls in Georgia – Identification Guide

Georgia is a diverse state that contains many different habitats from beaches to mountains to forests. Due to this habitat diversity, Georgia is home to a variety of bird species, including owls. This article lists the 9 species of owls that inhabit Georgia.

List of Owls in Georgia

The owls that reside in Georgia vary greatly in their morphology. The snowy owl boasts pure white plumage, whilst the barred owl has streaked brown feathers. Burrowing owls have long legs that are perfect for running along the ground. On the other hand, Northern saw-whet owls are short and squat in appearance. 

These owls inhabit slightly different environments, ranging from arctic regions like the snowy owl to urban habitats like the barn owl, although wooded habitats are the most popular. They all feast on small mammals.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl
Image of a Barred Owl perched on a branch
Credit: Cephas

Scientific Name: Strix varia

The barred owl is also known as the Northern barred owl, striped owl, or hoot owl. Barred owls are relatively large and stocky with mottled white and brown plumage. They have horizontal bars on their chest and vertical bars on their belly. Their eyes are large and ink-black. 

Barred owls roost in trees during the day and hunt for rodents at night. These birds live in large forests with mixed evergreen and deciduous trees, not far from water sources. They nest in natural tree cavities as well as nest boxes. Their range extends from the Eastern to the Southwestern United States. They can be found near the Coastal Plains of Georgia. 

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl
Image of a Burrowing Owl standing on the ground
Credit: Mike’s Birds

Scientific Name: Athene cunicularia 

Burrowing owls are fairly small and have flat heads and long legs. They have mottled brown plumage and a pale brown belly, with a white throat and eyebrows. Their eyes are a bright and piercing yellow. They use their long legs to run along the ground hunting insects and small vertebrates. 

These birds nest underground, using discarded ground squirrels and prairie dog burrows. They occupy open habitats with sparse vegetation and are distributed throughout North and South America. Burrowing owls can be easily spotted around Georgia due to their hunting behavior. They can often be seen standing or hopping around the ground in the open. 

Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl
Image of a Long-Eared Owl sitting on a branch
Credit: Ron Knight

Scientific Name: Asio otus

As their name suggests, these owls have long ear tufts that point straight up. Along with their white eyebrows and round, yellow eyes, these owls appear to wear a somewhat surprised expression. 

They have a mottled brown-orange plumage that is paler on their chest and belly and a rust-orange face. They feed mainly on small mammals such as voles and mice, that they hunt during the night. These birds live in dense, coniferous woodlands across Eurasia and North and South America. 

Long-eared owls are a quiet species, becoming most verbal during mating season. Although present everywhere in Georgia except the Southeast region, they can be a challenge to find. It is best to look for them during the fall and winter. 

Northern Saw-Whet Owl 

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
Image of a Northern Saw-Whet Owl perched on a branch
Credit: Kameron Perensovich

Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus

Northern saw-whet owls are quite small, measuring around 8 inches tall. They have large, rounded heads and squat bodies. Their plumage is mottled brown and they have a spotted white head. 

Their bellies are mostly white with pale brown streaking. These owls are nocturnal and hunt mainly for small mammals but supplement their diet with small birds and invertebrates. They favor dense forests but can be seen in open habitats when hunting for small birds and mammals. 

They reside across Southern Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Northern saw-whet owls are rare in Georgia and the best time to look for them is between November and February.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
Image of a Barn Owl perched on a post
Credit: Steve Garvie

Scientific Name: Tyto alba 

Barn owls have slender physiques and boast their characteristic heart-shaped face. Their back and wings are buff brown whilst their face and underparts are pure white, giving them an elegant appearance. These birds feed primarily on rodents such as mice, voles, and shrews. They occupy perches then swoop down and catch prey with their sharp talons and silent flying. 

Barns owls live in open farmland and countryside habitats, often occupying man-made structures such as barns, as their name suggests. Barn owls are distributed across every continent except Antarctica. These birds can be spotted in North and South Georgia all year round. 

Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl
Image of a red morph and gray morph Eastern Screech Owl perched in a tree cavity
Credit: DickDaniels

Scientific Name: Megascops asio

The Eastern screech owl has a short and stout appearance due to its large head and virtually no neck. Their head is adorned with pointed ear tufts. These owls come in two morphs, either red or gray. The former has a red-brown plumage with dark streaks whilst the latter has dark and light gray streaked feathers. 

True to their name, these owls make a screeching noise meaning they are often heard before they are seen. Their patterned plumage provides cryptic coloration among the trees. They feed on a variety of small animals such as birds, mammals, and reptiles. They live in dense forests near water sources, with plenty of tree cavities to nest in. 

Eastern screech owls live in East America and are the most common owl species in Georgia, although can be tricky to spot due to their excellent camouflage. 

Largest Owls in Georgia

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
Image of a male Snowy Owl perched on a well
Credit: Bill Bouton

Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus

Snowy owls have rounded heads and fluffy feet which gives them a cute appearance. Their color ranges from almost pure white to densely streaked with brown. They exhibit sexual dimorphism as males tend to boast a white plumage whereas females exhibit dense barring. 

They consume primarily small mammals and lemmings are their favored prey. These owls are diurnal and inhabit arctic tundra, with plenty of vantage points to perch and hunt from. They are found in the arctic regions of Eurasia and America. Snowy owls can be a challenge to spot in Georgia. 

The best time to look for them is between December and February near wetlands, fields, and even airports. 

Short Eared Owl

Short Eared Owl
Image of a Short Eared Owl from below in flight
Credit: Stephan Sprinz

Scientific Name: Asio flammeus

Short-eared owls boast a mottled plumage which is a mixture of white, tan, and brown. Their upper breast is heavily streaked and their underwings are pale with a dark, comma-shaped marking.  They have yellow-orange eyes which are contrasted by the ring of black feathers that surrounds them. 

Short-eared owls hunt mainly during the night but are known to be diurnal as well. These birds fly low to the ground, just above the grasslands. They will quickly swoop down and grab prey with their sharp talons. Their diet primarily consists of rodents, especially voles, but they will also consume smaller birds. 

These birds occupy open habitats such as tundra and grassland. They are found on almost every continent apart from Antarctica and Asia. When searching for short-eared owls in Georgia, it’s best to look for them in open habitats between November and April.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
Image of a Great Horned Owl perched on a branch
Credit: Yellowstone National Park

Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus 

This owl is so-called due to its long ear tufts that resemble horns. They have large bodies coated in mottled brown feathers. Their face coloration ranges from gray to rust-brown and they have yellow-orange eyes adorned by V-shaped eyebrows. 

Great horned owls are apex predators and have a diverse diet. They hunt other large birds of prey, sometimes larger than themselves, as well as small rodents. They occupy a variety of habitats and prefer to live in evergreen and deciduous forests but can also be found in suburban environments, deserts, wetlands, and open areas. 

Their range expands across North, South, and Central America. They can be spotted in Georgia all year round, occupying various habitats.  

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