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

Kentucky, known for its rolling hills, flowing rivers, and lush forests, is also home to a variety of owl species. The state’s rich biodiversity provides the perfect habitat for these nocturnal creatures, making Kentucky an excellent destination for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.

Whether you’re drawn to the intense gaze of the Great Horned Owl or the haunting calls of the Eastern Screech Owl, Kentucky is a must-visit for owl aficionados.

Owl Species Found in Kentucky

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 46-63 cm (18-25 in)
  • Weight: 1.0-2.5 kg (2.2-5.5 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 101-145 cm (40-57 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

The Great Horned Owl, also known as the “tiger of the air,” is one of Kentucky’s largest owls. With its piercing yellow eyes, large tufted ears, and powerful talons, it is a formidable predator.

The Great Horned Owl’s diet is incredibly diverse, consisting of everything from small rodents to larger prey such as ducks and even other owls. These owls are a common sight in Kentucky’s forests, although they can adapt to various habitats including deserts, swamps, and city parks.

Did you know? Great Horned Owls are known for their distinctive hooting call, which can carry over several miles and is often described as a series of four to five hoots: “hoo-hoo hoo hoo.”

Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl
  • Scientific Name: Megascops asio
  • Size: 16-25 cm (6.3-9.8 in)
  • Weight: 121-244 g (4.3-8.6 oz)
  • Wingspan: 46-61 cm (18-24 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

The Eastern Screech Owl is a petite, charismatic owl that calls Kentucky home. Despite its small size, the Eastern Screech Owl is a versatile hunter, capable of capturing a variety of prey including insects, small birds, and even bats.

It has a rounded head with ear tufts, yellow eyes, and a robust body. Their color varies from gray to reddish-brown, making them masters of camouflage against tree bark.

Did you know? Contrary to what its name suggests, the Eastern Screech Owl doesn’t screech. Instead, it makes a haunting, trembling song that can be heard in the night skies of Kentucky.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl
  • Scientific Name: Strix varia
  • Size: 40-63 cm (16-25 in)
  • Weight: 500-1050 g (1.1-2.3 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 96-125 cm (38-49 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

The Barred Owl, also known as the hoot owl, is another resident of Kentucky. It is easily identifiable by its large round head, dark eyes, and horizontal bars on its chest with vertical bars on its belly.

Barred Owls prefer older forests where they nest in tree cavities, but they can also be found in suburban areas and parks. These birds are nocturnal and are known for their distinctive hooting call which is often phrased as “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”

Did you know? Unlike many other owl species, Barred Owls have dark, soulful eyes instead of the usual yellow. This characteristic helps to differentiate them from other species.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific Name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 33-40 cm (13-16 in)
  • Weight: 224-710 g (0.49-1.56 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 80-95 cm (31-37 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

Barn Owls are distinctive and beloved for their ghostly appearance and eerie, raspy calls. Their heart-shaped face, dark eyes, and white to light-brown plumage make them easy to identify.

They prefer open habitats like fields, meadows, and marshes for hunting, but as their name suggests, they often roost and nest in barns and other old, quiet buildings. These owls are silent predators, swooping down on their prey, which is mainly rodents, in the darkness.

Did you know? Barn Owls are one of the most widely distributed birds in the world, found on every continent except Antarctica!

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 18-21 cm (7-8.3 in)
  • Weight: 54-151 g (1.9-5.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 42-56.3 cm (16.5-22.2 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl, named for its call that sounds similar to a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone, is a small owl with a large round head, yellow eyes, and no ear tufts.

They are forest dwellers, preferring mature forests with dense undergrowth, where they roost during the day and hunt at night. Their diet consists mostly of small mammals, particularly deer mice. Despite their small size, these owls are fierce hunters.

Did you know? The Northern Saw-Whet Owl gets its unique name from one of its many calls, which reminded early settlers of the sound made when sharpening, or “whetting,” a saw.

Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
  • Size: 34-42 cm (13.4-16.5 in)
  • Weight: 206-475 g (7.3-16.8 oz)
  • Wingspan: 85-110 cm (33.5-43.3 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

Short-Eared Owls are medium-sized owls with unique habits within the owl family. They are one of the few species that are active during the day, especially at dawn and dusk.

These owls prefer open areas such as prairies, marshes, and agricultural fields, where they can be seen flying low in search of small mammals, which make up the majority of their diet. Their short ear tufts are not often visible, hence the “short-eared” moniker.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, Short-Eared Owls are often seen hunting during the day, especially in the early morning and late afternoon. They’re also one of the most widespread owl species, found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.

Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio otus
  • Size: 31-40 cm (12.2-15.7 in)
  • Weight: 178-435 g (6.3-15.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 86-100 cm (33.9-39.4 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

Long-Eared Owls, named for their long feather tufts that resemble ears, are medium-sized owls with a slender body. They inhabit forests adjacent to open spaces, often occupying abandoned nests of other birds.

These secretive birds are primarily nocturnal, hunting for small mammals and birds in open lands at night. Their calls, a deep hooting sound, can be heard from a considerable distance.

Did you know? Long-Eared Owls have some of the best hearing among birds, thanks to their vertical ear openings – one is higher than the other, which helps them pinpoint the exact location of sounds in their environment.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 52-71 cm (20.5-28 in)
  • Weight: 1.6-2.9 kg (3.5-6.4 lb)
  • Wingspan: 125-150 cm (49.2-59.1 in)
  • Time of Year: Winter

Snowy Owls, popularized by the Harry Potter series, are large and magnificent birds of prey. They are distinguished by their pure white plumage and yellow eyes.

In the winter, they migrate from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to the northern United States, including Kentucky. During this time, they can be spotted in open, treeless areas such as fields and beaches. These owls are diurnal, active both day and night, hunting for rodents and birds.

Did you know? Snowy Owls are one of the heaviest owl species in North America. They’re also known for their exceptional eyesight – their eyes are the largest of any owl species in North America and can spot prey from up to a mile away.

Where & How to Observe Owls in Kentucky

Owls are found all over Kentucky, taking up residence in a variety of habitats. The state’s forested areas, open farmlands, and even suburban regions with sufficient tree cover provide the perfect environment for these elusive creatures. Here are some of the best locations to spot different owl species:

  • Mammoth Cave National Park: This park offers dense forests where you can find the Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, and Eastern Screech Owl.
  • Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area: The large, unbroken tracts of forest are home to the Barred Owl, and during winter months, you might even spot a Snowy Owl here.
  • Daniel Boone National Forest: A great place to spot Long-Eared Owls and Northern Saw-Whet Owls.
  • Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest: You might hear the distinctive hoots of the Eastern Screech Owl and Great Horned Owl at dusk.

As for specific tips on finding owls in these locations, remember that many owl species are nocturnal, so they’re most active from dusk to dawn. Bring a good flashlight and be patient. Listen for their vocalizations – these sounds are often the best indication that an owl is nearby.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  • Owls are more vocal around their breeding seasons, making these times often the best for spotting them.
  • Move quietly and minimize disturbances. Owls are sensitive to human presence and will relocate if they feel threatened.
  • Binoculars or a spotting scope can be invaluable for spotting these often well-camouflaged birds.
  • Always respect the wildlife and observe from a distance. Never try to touch or harass an owl.
  • Joining a local birdwatching group can provide invaluable knowledge and companionship for your owl-spotting endeavors.

Owls in Other States

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