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All 7 Owl Species Found in South Carolina (With Pictures & Info)

South Carolina, with its blend of various habitats, including lowland swamps, coastal plains, and sprawling forests, is a remarkable destination for avid birdwatchers.

This scenic state is a year-round home for several species of owls, fascinating nocturnal raptors that intrigue with their mysterious ways and mesmerizing calls echoing through the night.

This article provides detailed insights into the owl species inhabiting South Carolina and tips on where and how to spot these elusive creatures.

Owl Species Found in South Carolina

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 46-63 cm (18-25 in) long
  • Weight: 910-2500 g (2-5.5 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 101-145 cm (40-57 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

Recognizable by its large size, ear-like tufts, and intimidating yellow eyes, the Great Horned Owl is a force to be reckoned with in the avian world. With its wide range, it is the most common owl species in South Carolina.

This adaptable owl can inhabit a variety of environments, from dense forests to city parks. Great Horned Owls are known for their deep hooting call, a haunting sound that echoes through the night and can be heard from miles away.

These owls are top-level predators; they’re even known to take down other raptors, including other owls.

Did you know? The eyes of the Great Horned Owl are not true “eyeballs.” Their tube-shaped eyes are completely immobile, providing a binocular vision that fully focuses on their prey and boosts depth perception.

Eastern Screech Owl

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

Small in size but robust in spirit, the Eastern Screech Owl is a permanent resident of South Carolina. This species presents two color morphs – a gray phase and a reddish-brown phase, both of which blend perfectly with tree bark, providing excellent camouflage.

Emitting a series of haunting whinnying and trilling calls at night, these owls add a soundtrack to the quiet nocturnal landscapes. Despite their size, Eastern Screech Owls are capable hunters, preying on a variety of animals, from insects and small rodents to birds and reptiles. Locating them can be challenging due to their adeptness at staying concealed during the day.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, Eastern Screech Owls have a strong sense of territoriality, and a pair may occupy the same territory throughout the year. The male takes the lead in defending the territory and providing food while the female incubates the eggs.

Barred Owl

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

The Barred Owl, named for the bar-like markings on its chest, is a large, stocky owl with a rounded head and no ear tufts. It prefers to inhabit old forests and woodlands near water bodies in South Carolina. Known for their “who cooks for you?” call, they are more often heard than seen.

Despite being mostly nocturnal, Barred Owls can sometimes be seen hunting in the late afternoon or on cloudy days. Their diet mainly consists of small mammals, but they will also prey on birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

Did you know? Barred Owls are known for their distinctive and wide range of vocalizations. They have a vast repertoire that includes hoots, gurgles, cackles, and screams, contributing to their local nickname, the “Crazy Owl.”

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific Name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 33-40 cm (13-16 in) long
  • Weight: 224-710 g (7.9-25.0 oz)
  • Wingspan: 80-95 cm (31-37 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Barn Owl, a pale, long-winged, long-legged owl, is commonly found in barns and other old, abandoned structures in South Carolina. Their heart-shaped facial disc and dark eyes give them a distinctive and ghostly appearance.

With excellent low-light vision and unmatched hearing capabilities, they’re expert hunters, preying primarily on small mammals like mice and voles. Barn Owls are silent hunters and their flight is nearly noiseless due to the special fringe on the front edge of their flight feathers.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, Barn Owls do not hoot. Instead, they emit a chilling, raspy screech, which can be quite unsettling when heard for the first time.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 18-21 cm (7.1-8.3 in) long
  • 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 small, secretive, nocturnal owl commonly found in South Carolina’s dense forests.

Named for their call, which resembles the whetting of a saw, these owls prefer habitats with a mix of old and young forests with an abundance of small mammals for prey. Though small, they are fierce predators, mainly hunting small rodents. Due to their elusive nature, Northern Saw-Whet Owls are more often heard than seen.

Did you know? Despite their small size, Northern Saw-Whet Owls can take down prey larger than themselves. They’re known to catch and consume rodents that outweigh them!

Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio otus
  • Size: 31-40 cm (12-16 in) long
  • Weight: 178-435 g (6.3-15.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 90-100 cm (35-39 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Long-Eared Owl, named for its tufts of feathers that resemble ears, is a medium-sized owl with a secretive lifestyle. This species is more often heard than seen in South Carolina, as they are nocturnal and prefer to roost in dense vegetation during the day.

Their primary diet consists of small mammals, and they are particularly skilled at capturing prey in complete darkness using their excellent hearing.

Did you know? Long-Eared Owls are notable for their communal roosting behavior. During the non-breeding season, they often roost in groups, sometimes with dozens of individuals sharing the same tree!

Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
  • Size: 34-43 cm (13-17 in) long
  • Weight: 206-475 g (7.3-16.8 oz)
  • Wingspan: 85-110 cm (33-43 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

Short-Eared Owls are medium-sized owls with mottled brown bodies, pale underparts, and yellow eyes. They are one of the few owl species that are active during the day, especially at dawn and dusk.

In South Carolina, they are commonly seen in open habitats such as marshes, grasslands, and agricultural fields where they hunt for small mammals. Their flight is buoyant and moth-like, adding to their unique charm.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, which are solitary, Short-Eared Owls have been known to form communal roosts, particularly in winter or during migration. These gatherings can sometimes include dozens of owls!

Where & How to Observe Owls in South Carolina

South Carolina, with its diverse ecosystems, offers ample opportunities for owl spotting. From coastal marshes to upland forests, you can find a variety of owl species across the state.

  • Congaree National Park: The old-growth bottomland hardwood forest is home to the Barred Owl, which prefers its thick woods and swampy areas. Nighttime guided walks often yield sightings.
  • Francis Marion National Forest: Located in the coastal part of the state, this forest provides excellent habitats for Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls, with its variety of tree species and abundant prey.
  • Santee National Wildlife Refuge: This refuge is known for a variety of bird species, including owls. Look for Short-Eared Owls in the grasslands and marsh areas, especially at dawn and dusk.
  • Savannah River Site: This area hosts several owl species, including the elusive Barn Owl. Spotting these owls might require some patience, but it is well worth the effort.

Remember, different species of owls prefer different types of habitats. Barred Owls, for instance, can often be found in forests and woodlands near water, while Barn Owls prefer open areas like fields and marshes where they can hunt for rodents.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  • Time of Day: Owls are mostly nocturnal, so the best time for owl spotting is usually around dusk or dawn. However, certain species like the Short-Eared Owl can be active during the day as well.
  • Listen Carefully: Owls are known for their distinct calls, and you’re more likely to hear an owl before you see one. Learn the calls of different owl species to help identify them.
  • Look Up: Owls often perch high in trees, especially during the day. Look for owl shapes against the sky, or for signs like pellets and white-washed droppings on the ground below.
  • Patience is Key: Owls can be elusive. Be patient and quiet, and with a little luck, you’ll spot these fascinating creatures.
  • Use a Guide: Consider hiring a local guide or joining an organized bird-watching tour, as local experts can share valuable insights and increase your chances of spotting owls.
  • Respect Wildlife: Remember to observe owls from a distance and never disturb an owl’s nest. Use binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens for a closer look.

Remember, owls are an essential part of our ecosystem, and watching them can be a truly magical experience. Happy birding!

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