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All 8 Owl Species Found in Alabama (With Pictures & Info)

Alabama, the Heart of Dixie, is renowned for its diverse natural landscapes, rich history, and cultural heritage. But beyond this, Alabama is also home to a rich variety of avian species, including the nocturnal hunters known as owls.

These creatures of the night are an essential part of the Alabama ecosystem, each species playing its role in the delicate balance of nature. In this article, we will journey through the night skies of Alabama, as we explore and learn about the eight different owl species that call this state home.

Prepare to delve into their world, where you’ll discover facts about their sizes, weights, wingspans, and when you can expect to see each one throughout the year.

Owl Species Found in Alabama

Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl
  • Scientific name: Megascops asio
  • Size: 16-25 cm (6.3-9.8 inches)
  • Weight: 121-244 grams (4.3-8.6 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 46-61 cm (18-24 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Eastern Screech Owl is a compact owl that can be found in Alabama throughout the year. With its distinctive trilling call, this nocturnal bird often goes unnoticed despite its prevalence. Its small size and masterful camouflage make it an expert at blending into its surroundings, mainly woodlands, forests, and even suburban areas.

Its plumage comes in two color morphs: a reddish-brown and a gray version, both patterned to resemble the bark of trees. Despite its name, the Eastern Screech Owl doesn’t screech. Instead, its call is a soft, mournful trill or whinny.

Did you know? The Eastern Screech Owl has a unique defense mechanism known as “catalepsy.” When threatened, it elongates its body to mimic a branch or tree bark, and remains utterly motionless, thereby effectively hiding in plain sight.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 46-63 cm (18-25 inches)
  • Weight: 910-2500 grams (2-5.5 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 91-153 cm (36-60 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Great Horned Owl, also known as the “tiger owl,” is one of the largest owl species in Alabama and is known for its distinctive horn-like tufts of feathers. These majestic birds can be found across the state throughout the year.

They inhabit a range of habitats, from forests and deserts to city parks. Their large yellow eyes are not just for show – they have excellent vision, which, combined with their sharp talons and beak, makes them formidable hunters. They are known to take down prey larger than themselves, including other raptors.

Did you know? The Great Horned Owl doesn’t actually have horns. Those prominent ear tufts are just long feathers, and they’re more about communication and camouflage than hearing. The actual ears are hidden on the sides of their heads, asymmetrically placed to better pinpoint the source of sounds.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl
  • Scientific name: Strix varia
  • Size: 40-63 cm (16-25 inches)
  • Weight: 500-1050 grams (1.1-2.3 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 96-125 cm (38-49 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Barred Owl, known for its distinctive call that sounds like “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?”, is a large and somewhat chunky owl species. These birds are year-round residents of Alabama and prefer mature forests near water bodies, although they have been known to reside in suburban and urban areas.

Their dark brown eyes and distinctive horizontal barring on the chest with vertical streaks on the belly make them easy to identify. Being very territorial, they often remain in or near their home territory year-round.

Did you know? Barred Owls are notable for their habit of daytime hunting, which is not common among most owl species. So, if you’re lucky, you may spot these unique owls during daylight hours.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 33-40 cm (13-15.7 inches)
  • Weight: 460-680 grams (1-1.5 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 107-110 cm (42-43 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

Known for its heart-shaped face, the Barn Owl is a mesmerizing sight to behold. Unlike most owls, which have round facial disks, the Barn Owl’s is heart-shaped, giving it a distinctive appearance. As its name suggests, the Barn Owl is often found in barns and other abandoned structures, as well as in natural cavities in trees and cliffs.

This owl prefers open habitats like farmland, marshes, and grasslands where it can hunt for its favorite prey, which includes rats, mice, and other small mammals.

Did you know? Barn Owls have one of the most efficient systems of any animal for locating prey by sound alone. Their facial disc works to funnel sound to their ears, and they can accurately pinpoint the location of a tiny mouse from the rustle it makes in the grass, even in complete darkness.

Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl
  • Scientific name: Asio otus
  • Size: 31-40 cm (12-15.7 inches)
  • Weight: 200-435 grams (7-15.3 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 90-100 cm (35.4-39.4 inches)
  • Time of the year: Primarily winter, although some might be spotted year-round

The Long-Eared Owl, another owl species found in Alabama, is primarily a winter visitor, although some may be present throughout the year. It’s named for its long ear tufts that give the impression of having lengthy ears.

These owls prefer dense stands of trees, especially for roosting during the day. At night, they venture out to hunt in open fields or grasslands, preying mainly on small mammals such as rodents.

Did you know? The Long-Eared Owl is a very social species, especially during the non-breeding season. They often roost communally in groups that can range from a few individuals to over a hundred, particularly in the wintertime.

Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl
  • Scientific name: Asio flammeus
  • Size: 34-43 cm (13.4-16.9 inches)
  • Weight: 206-475 grams (7.3-16.8 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 85-110 cm (33.5-43.3 inches)
  • Time of the year: Primarily winter, although some might be spotted year-round

The Short-Eared Owl, a medium-sized owl with distinctive short ear tufts, is another owl species you might encounter in Alabama. Unlike many owl species, they tend to be most active during dawn and dusk and occasionally during the day, especially in winter.

The Short-Eared Owl can be found in open landscapes such as grasslands, marshes, and agricultural fields where it hunts for small mammals.

Did you know? Short-Eared Owls have an unusual, erratic flight style, often described as moth-like. This flight pattern can help distinguish them from other owl species, even at a distance.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 18-20 cm (7.1-7.9 inches)
  • Weight: 54-151 grams (1.9-5.3 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 42-56.3 cm (16.5-22.2 inches)
  • Time of the year: Winter

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is one of the smallest owls found in Alabama and is predominantly a winter visitor. It got its name from one of its calls that sounds similar to a saw being sharpened on a “whetting” stone.

This elusive owl prefers dense forests, often near water bodies, and is known for its excellent camouflage that makes it tough to spot.

Did you know? Despite their small size and cute appearance, Northern Saw-Whet Owls are fierce predators. Their diet primarily consists of small rodents, but they can also take down prey as large as themselves.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl
  • Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
  • Size: 19-28 cm (7.5-11 inches)
  • Weight: 140-240 grams (4.9-8.5 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 50.8-61 cm (20-24 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Burrowing Owl is a small, ground-dwelling owl with long legs that can be found in Alabama. Unlike most owls, they are active both during the day and night. These owls inhabit open landscapes like grasslands, deserts, and agricultural areas.

As their name suggests, they nest in burrows, often those abandoned by other creatures like prairie dogs.

Did you know? When threatened, Burrowing Owls make a hissing sound that mimics a rattlesnake’s rattle to deter predators. They can also bob their head and flash their eyes to appear more threatening.

Where & How to Observe Owls in Alabama

Owls can be found throughout Alabama, and there are a few notable places that are known for owl sightings.

  1. Monte Sano State Park: Nestled on Monte Sano Mountain near Huntsville, this state park is a prime location to spot Eastern Screech Owls, Great Horned Owls, and Barred Owls.
  2. Conecuh National Forest: Located in southern Alabama, this forest is a great spot to potentially see a variety of owls, including the Barn Owl and the Short-Eared Owl.
  3. Bankhead National Forest: This extensive forest in northwestern Alabama provides suitable habitat for the Long-Eared Owl and Northern Saw-Whet Owl, especially during winter.
  4. Talladega National Forest: Located in the northeastern part of the state, this forest is known for its Great Horned Owl and Barred Owl populations.
  5. Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge: This wildlife refuge is located along the Tennessee River and is a good spot to look for the Burrowing Owl.
  6. Urban parks and green spaces in cities like Birmingham and Montgomery: These can also be home to several owl species, including the Eastern Screech Owl and Great Horned Owl.

Owls can be found in a variety of habitats in Alabama, including forests, wetlands, grasslands, agricultural fields, and even urban parks. To increase your chances of seeing owls, plan your outings during dawn or dusk, as most owl species are most active during these times.

Some Quick Tips For Spotting Owls:

  • Listen for their calls: Each owl species has a unique call, and they’re often more easily heard than seen.
  • Look for pellets: Owls regurgitate the indigestible parts of their prey, and these ‘pellets’ can often be found on the ground beneath their roosting or nesting sites.
  • Be patient: Owl spotting requires a lot of patience, as these birds can blend in well with their surroundings.
  • Use binoculars: A good pair of binoculars can make it easier to spot these fascinating birds.
  • Be respectful: Always keep a respectful distance to avoid disturbing the owls, and never shine lights directly into their eyes as it can be disorienting and harmful.

In conclusion, owl spotting in Alabama can be a rewarding experience, offering a chance to learn about these magnificent creatures and their roles in the ecosystem. Happy birdwatching!

Owls in Other States

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