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

From the beautiful hardwood forests in the Appalachian region to the sprawling farm fields and city parks, Pennsylvania hosts a diverse range of habitats suitable for various owl species.

This article aims to introduce you to the eight different species of owls that call Pennsylvania home, provide some fun facts, and help you learn where and how to spot them.

Owl Species Found in Pennsylvania

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 45-63 cm (18-24.8 in)
  • Weight: 910-2500 g (2-5.5 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 101-145 cm (40-57 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Great Horned Owl, sometimes referred to as the “tiger owl”, is a staple of the Pennsylvanian woods. As one of the most adaptable owls, they are found in various habitats including mixed forests, agricultural fields, city parks, and even swamps.

Their hauntingly beautiful deep hooting sound can be heard echoing through the forests, especially during their breeding season in late January and February.

Great Horned Owls are one of the few predators that have been known to take down an adult Osprey, signifying their powerful predatory skills.

Their diet is quite diverse, feeding on everything from rodents and birds to reptiles and amphibians. If you’re out at night and you see a large, intimidating silhouette perched on a high tree branch or fence post, it’s likely you’ve come across a Great Horned Owl.

Did you know? The Great Horned Owl doesn’t actually have horns! The “horns” are just tufts of feathers called plumicorns. They’re thought to help with camouflage, breaking up the bird’s outline among the trees.

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 the Year: Year-round

The Eastern Screech Owl is one of Pennsylvania’s smallest and most common owls. Despite their size, they are ferocious predators, known for their broad diet that includes insects, rodents, small birds, and even other small owls.

Eastern Screech Owls can be found in a range of habitats such as woods, parks, and suburbs, where their well-camouflaged plumage allows them to blend perfectly into their surroundings.

Their “screeching” call is a familiar sound to many Pennsylvanians. It is often mistaken for a horse whinny or the wail of a ghost, contributing to the spooky reputation of these owls. Yet, these sounds are just their way of communication, used during courtship and to defend their territory.

Did you know? The Eastern Screech Owl comes in two colors, or “morphs”: a reddish-brown version and a gray one. Both colors provide excellent camouflage against the bark of trees.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl
  • Scientific Name: Strix varia
  • Size: 40-63 cm (15.7-24.8 in)
  • Weight: 500-1050 g (1.1-2.3 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 96-125 cm (37.8-49.2 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

Known for their distinctive hooting call that sounds like “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”, Barred Owls are a delightful encounter in the forests of Pennsylvania.

They inhabit mainly mature forests, and with their mottled brown-and-white bodies, they can easily blend into the surrounding trees.

The Barred Owl is an opportunistic predator with a diverse diet, consuming various small mammals, birds, and amphibians. Its large, expressive eyes, usually a characteristic of nocturnal hunters, enable it to detect prey in low-light conditions. But interestingly, Barred Owls are often active during the day, which makes them more observable than many other owl species.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, the Barred Owl does not have ear tufts. Their eyes are also dark brown, which is somewhat rare among owls, whose eyes are usually yellow.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific Name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 33-40 cm (13-15.7 in)
  • Weight: 460-680 g (1-1.5 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 80-95 cm (31.5-37.4 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

Pennsylvania’s farmlands are home to the eerie yet magnificent Barn Owl. With a heart-shaped face, long legs, and strong talons, this owl is instantly recognizable.

It prefers open habitats like farmland and grasslands, where it can hover while hunting for small mammals, mainly field voles.

Barn Owls have an extraordinary sense of hearing; their satellite-dish-shaped face directs sound to their ears, enabling them to locate prey in complete darkness. As their name suggests, they often nest in barns, silos, and other abandoned buildings, keeping the local rodent population under control.

Did you know? Barn Owls have the most widespread distribution of any owl species, found on every continent except Antarctica.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 18-21 cm (7.1-8.3 in)
  • Weight: 54-151 g (1.9-5.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 42-56.3 cm (16.5-22.2 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is a tiny but fierce predator found in the forested regions of Pennsylvania. Named for their call which is said to resemble the sound of a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone, these owls prefer dense forests with mature trees.

Despite their small size, Northern Saw-Whet Owls are efficient hunters, typically preying on small mammals such as mice and voles. They are also known to take birds and large insects when available. These owls are primarily nocturnal and can be difficult to spot due to their small size and excellent camouflage.

Did you know? Northern Saw-Whet Owls are one of the smallest owl species in North America, often fitting comfortably in the palm of a hand!

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 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 125-150 cm (49.2-59.1 in)
  • Time of the Year: Winter months

A symbol of the Arctic, the Snowy Owl, is a large and magnificent bird of prey. They are famous visitors to Pennsylvania during the winter months, mainly found in open fields, airports, and beach dunes.

With a thickly feathered rounded head, piercing yellow eyes, and distinctive white feathers, they are hard to mistake.

Snowy Owls are nomadic birds, and their presence in Pennsylvania is strongly influenced by their main prey availability, primarily lemmings, in the Arctic tundra. During irruptive years, when food is scarce in their northern habitats, you may spot more of these owls venturing south into Pennsylvania.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, Snowy Owls are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, especially in the summertime.

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 the Year: Year-round

With long ear tufts, an orange facial disk, and large, gleaming yellow eyes, the Long-Eared Owl is a secretive and distinctive species found in Pennsylvania. They prefer dense stands of trees, particularly around open fields, for roosting and nesting.

These highly nocturnal owls feed mainly on small mammals, but they are known to take small birds as well. Due to their preference for deep forests and their exceptional camouflage, they can be quite challenging to spot.

Did you know? Long-Eared Owls are superb at camouflage. During the day, they will stretch their body and compress their feathers to resemble a branch, effectively hiding from potential threats.

Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
  • Size: 34-43 cm (13.4-16.9 in)
  • Weight: 206-475 g (7.3-16.8 oz)
  • Wingspan: 85-110 cm (33.5-43.3 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round, but more common in winter

The Short-Eared Owl is a medium-sized owl with large eyes and short ear tufts, typically seen flying over open fields and marshes in search of prey. They are among the most cosmopolitan of all birds, found on all continents except Australia and Antarctica.

In Pennsylvania, they are year-round residents but are more common in the winter. They hunt mostly during the night but can be seen hunting during the day, especially during the breeding season. They feed primarily on small mammals, especially voles.

Did you know? The ‘ears’ in their name are not ears at all but rather tufts of feathers that only somewhat resemble ears. They can raise or lower these tufts as needed.

Where & How to Observe Owls in Pennsylvania

Owls can be found all over Pennsylvania, from dense forests to open fields, and even suburban neighborhoods. Some specific regions and parks known for owl sightings include:

  1. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary: This famous bird-watching site in eastern Pennsylvania is a great place to spot owls, especially in the winter months when they migrate.
  2. Moraine State Park: Located in Butler County, this park’s diverse habitats provide excellent opportunities to spot owls like Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls.
  3. French Creek State Park: With over 7,500 acres of forests and wetlands, this state park offers suitable habitats for various owl species.
  4. Raccoon Creek State Park: Situated in Hookstown, this park’s expansive woodland areas are a great place to spot the elusive Long-Eared Owl and Northern Saw-Whet Owl.
  5. The Allegheny National Forest: This forest, spanning over 500,000 acres, is an ideal habitat for the Great Gray Owl and other species.

Owls in Pennsylvania inhabit a range of habitats, from forested areas preferred by Barred and Great Horned Owls, open fields and farmlands frequented by Short-Eared and Snowy Owls, to marshlands where you might spot a Barn Owl.

A good tip to find the elusive Long-Eared Owl is to look for small songbirds mobbing an area in the forest; they often harass these owls, giving away their location. Remember that Northern Saw-Whet Owls are most often found in dense conifers.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  • Listen for Owl Calls: Many owls are more often heard than seen. Learn the calls of different owl species to better identify them.
  • Go at the Right Time: Dusk and dawn are often the best times to see owls, as this is when they are most active.
  • Bring a Flashlight: A good flashlight can help to spot owls in the dark. However, never shine the light directly into the owl’s eyes.
  • Be Patient and Quiet: Owls can be elusive and require patience to spot. Move slowly and keep noise to a minimum.
  • Respect their Space: If you find an owl, keep a reasonable distance. Do not try to get too close, as this can cause them unnecessary stress.

Remember, while finding and observing these majestic birds can be a thrilling experience, it’s important to respect their habitats and behaviors. Happy owl spotting in Pennsylvania!

Owls in Other States

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