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

Delaware, the First State of the Union, is home to a wonderful variety of bird species, including several types of owls. Its landscape, encompassing beaches, forests, wetlands, and farmland, provides excellent habitats for these elusive creatures of the night.

This article aims to guide you through the different species of owls that can be found within Delaware’s borders, offering insight into their lifestyles, appearances, and the best times to spot them.

Owl Species Found in Delaware

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, or “tiger owl,” is a powerful predator found all across North America, and Delaware is no exception. You can spot these impressive birds year-round, nesting in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, swamps, and sometimes even suburban parklands.

Easily identifiable by their large size and prominent ear tufts, the Great Horned Owl is known for its ability to adapt to various environments and diets. These owls have a broad menu, ranging from small mammals and birds to reptiles and amphibians.

Did you know? The Great Horned Owl has no actual horns! The “horns” are just tufts of feathers, known as plumicorns, that have no known function but add to their distinctive silhouette.

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, small but full of character, can be found year-round in Delaware. This species can be spotted in both rural and urban settings, making them quite a common sight. However, despite their prevalence, they are not always easy to spot due to their excellent camouflage abilities — they blend seamlessly with the tree bark.

Although their name suggests otherwise, Eastern Screech Owls don’t truly screech. Instead, they produce a range of sounds from hoots to whinnies. These formidable hunters may be small, but they are quite versatile in their diet, eating everything from small birds and rodents to insects and small reptiles.

Did you know? The Eastern Screech Owl comes in two colors: a reddish-brown phase and a gray phase. The color morph an owl will become is decided when it is still in the egg, based on its genetic makeup.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl
  • Scientific name: Strix varia
  • Size: 40-63 cm (16-25 inches)
  • Weight: 470-1050 grams (1-2.3 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 96-125 cm (38-49 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Barred Owl is a familiar sight in Delaware, being found in mature forests and swamps, especially those near water bodies. Recognizable by their dark eyes set in a rounded head and a unique pattern of vertical brown streaks against a white chest, these owls are among the most commonly encountered in the state.

These owls are strictly nocturnal, active primarily at night. They feed on a variety of prey, from small mammals and birds to reptiles and amphibians. Their call is unique and quite human-like, sounding like the phrase, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”

Did you know? The Barred Owl doesn’t migrate. They tend to stay within a few kilometers of their birthplace unless forced out by a lack of food or a more dominant owl.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 33-40 cm (13-15.7 inches)
  • Weight: 430-620 grams (0.94-1.36 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 80-95 cm (31.5-37.4 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

Barn Owls, known for their ghostly pale color and unique, heart-shaped face, are a common sight in Delaware. They are often found in farmlands, meadows, and sometimes even suburban areas. As their name suggests, these owls favor old barns or similar structures for nesting.

Being primarily nocturnal, Barn Owls hunt at night, using their keen sense of hearing to locate prey. They primarily feed on small mammals, especially rodents.

Did you know? Barn Owls swallow their prey whole—skin, bones, and all, and they eat up to 1,000 mice each year. Given their dietary preferences, farmers often appreciate their presence as a form of natural pest control.

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: Winter

Short-Eared Owls, named for their small, feathery ear tufts, are winter visitors to Delaware. Inhabiting open country such as fields, marshes, and grasslands, these owls are known to nest on the ground, a trait they share with few other owl species.

Short-Eared Owls hunt during the day and at dusk, especially during the winter. Their diet primarily includes small mammals, particularly voles and mice.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, which tend to be solitary, Short-Eared Owls are often seen in groups, especially during the winter or at abundant food sources. These gatherings are known as “owl roosts.”

Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl
  • Scientific name: Asio otus
  • Size: 31-40 cm (12.2-15.7 inches)
  • Weight: 178-435 grams (6.3-15.3 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 90-100 cm (35.4-39.4 inches)
  • Time of the year: Primarily in the winter, but some year-round

Long-Eared Owls, with their slender bodies and namesake ear tufts, are primarily winter residents in Delaware, although some do stay year-round. They are forest dwellers and prefer older growth trees where they can roost during the day.

Active primarily at night, these owls hunt for small mammals, favoring mice, voles, and other rodents. They have a distinct, low hoot that can often be heard during the night.

Did you know? Despite their name, the “ears” of Long-Eared Owls are not actually ears, but tufts of feathers. Their real ears are hidden on the sides of their head, covered by feathers.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 17-22 cm (7-8.7 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 a tiny owl that can be found in Delaware during the winter months. Despite its small size, this owl is full of character. They prefer dense thickets or coniferous forests where they roost just above eye level.

Although small, they are voracious predators, feeding mostly on small mammals, particularly mice. Due to their diminutive size and secretive nature, these owls can be difficult to spot.

Did you know? The Northern Saw-Whet Owl gets its unique name from one of its calls, which was said to sound similar to a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 52-71 cm (20-28 inches)
  • Weight: 1.6-2.9 kg (3.5-6.4 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 125-150 cm (49-59 inches)
  • Time of the year: Winter

The majestic Snowy Owl is a rare and exciting sight in Delaware, visiting the state during the winter months. Known for their striking white plumage and large size, they inhabit open fields and shorelines where they perch on the ground or low posts.

Snowy Owls hunt during the day, preying on small mammals and birds. During the winter, they can be found along Delaware’s coastline, taking advantage of water bodies to hunt waterfowl.

Did you know? Snowy Owls are among the largest owl species in North America, but they are also one of the most nomadic. Their movements are hard to predict and are believed to be closely tied to the availability of their primary prey, lemmings.

Where & How to Observe Owls in Delaware

Delaware offers a range of habitats suitable for various owl species. Here are some popular locations and regions for spotting these fascinating creatures:

  1. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge: This coastal refuge is a great spot for many bird species, including the Short-Eared Owl and the rare Snowy Owl in winter.
  2. Brandywine Creek State Park: This park has a diverse range of habitats, making it suitable for various owl species, including the Great Horned Owl and Barred Owl.
  3. Cape Henlopen State Park: Situated on the coast, this park is a great location to spot the Snowy Owl during the winter months.
  4. Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge: Another excellent location for birdwatching, you may encounter Short-Eared Owls or Barn Owls here.

Different owl species prefer different habitats in the state:

  • Forest habitats: Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Long-Eared Owl.
  • Open habitats and fields: Short-Eared Owl, Barn Owl.
  • Coastal areas: Snowy Owl.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  • Listen to the calls: Learning the different calls of each owl species can help identify them, even when they’re hard to spot.
  • Owl walks: Consider joining a guided owl walk led by local birding clubs or park naturalists.
  • Look up: Owls tend to roost in trees during the day, so make sure to look up into the branches.
  • Nighttime is prime time: Most owls are active at night, so consider evening or early morning outings for the best chances of sightings.
  • Be respectful: Remember not to disturb the owls or their habitats. Use binoculars or a telescope to watch them from a distance.

Remember that finding owls takes patience and persistence. Happy birding in Delaware!

Owls in Other States

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