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

Tennessee, known for its diverse wildlife and striking natural landscapes, is a paradise for bird enthusiasts. A variety of owls call this southern state home, each with its unique habits and characteristics.

These birds, often associated with wisdom in popular culture, play a significant role in maintaining the ecosystem by controlling rodent populations.

This article will introduce you to the various owl species that can be found across Tennessee and provide you with tips on where and when to spot them.

Owl Species Found in Tennessee

Great Horned Owl

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

The Great Horned Owl is one of the most easily recognized owl species in North America, courtesy of its size, ear tufts, and vividly colored eyes. Its hooting call, which carries quite far in the night, is also distinctive.

The Great Horned Owl is found across Tennessee in various habitats, including forests, desert regions, wetlands, and even city parks and suburbs.

The bird’s name comes from the tufts of feathers on its head that resemble horns or ears. These are not actual ears, however, which are hidden on the sides of its skull. This owl species is not picky about its diet and is known to take a variety of prey, from small mammals to birds and reptiles.

Did you know? The Great Horned Owl is one of the earliest nesting birds. Instead of building their own nests, they often use nests made by other bird species.

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: 48-61 cm (19-24 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

The Eastern Screech Owl is a small, nocturnal owl with a big voice. Despite its name, this owl doesn’t actually screech very often. Instead, it makes a soft, melodious hooting sound. They inhabit various environments in Tennessee, including woods, parks, and suburban areas.

These owls have distinctive ear tufts, and their plumage can be grey or rufous, which helps them blend into tree barks during the day. The Eastern Screech Owl has a broad diet that includes insects, small mammals, and other birds. They are also known to eat reptiles and amphibians.

Did you know? The Eastern Screech Owl doesn’t always fly to hunt. It often perches on a tree branch and drops down onto its prey on the ground.

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, often known for its distinctive “Who cooks for you?” call, is a large owl species found in Tennessee. It has a round head, brown eyes, and a yellow beak.

Barred Owls inhabit dense woods and are frequently found near bodies of water. They’re mostly nocturnal but are sometimes seen during the day, particularly during the breeding season.

Barred Owls are opportunistic hunters that prey on small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. They have a habit of roosting in the same area during the day, so a pile of pellets and whitewash often give away their location.

Did you know? Barred Owls do not migrate. They typically stay within a few kilometers of their home territory throughout the year.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific Name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 33-39 cm (13-15 in)
  • Weight: 224-710 g (7.9-25.0 oz)
  • Wingspan: 80-95 cm (31-37 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

Barn Owls, named for their propensity to nest in barns and other buildings, are pale, long-winged, and long-legged owls with short squarish tails. They have distinctive heart-shaped faces and dark eyes.

These birds prefer open areas for hunting, including fields, marshes, and grasslands, where they primarily hunt small mammals, especially rodents.

In Tennessee, Barn Owls are found throughout the state, although they are not as common as some other owl species. The best time to see a Barn Owl is at dusk as they begin their night hunting.

Did you know? A single Barn Owl family will consume over 1000 mice in a breeding season, contributing significantly to pest control in agricultural areas.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 52-71 cm (20-28 in)
  • Weight: 1.6-2.9 kg (3.5-6.4 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 125-150 cm (49-59 in)
  • Time of Year: Winter

Snowy Owls, one of the most distinctive and well-known owl species, are rare winter visitors to Tennessee. A native of the Arctic tundra, this large owl is easily recognizable by its white plumage, which helps it blend in with its snowy surroundings. It’s the heaviest owl species in North America, with bright yellow eyes and a rounded head without ear tufts.

Snowy Owls are day hunters, preferring to sit on a high perch and swoop down on their prey, which primarily consists of lemmings and other small rodents in their native range. In Tennessee, they are usually spotted in open, treeless areas where they have a clear view of their surroundings.

Did you know? The Snowy Owl is also known as the Arctic Owl or the Great White Owl. Its scientific name, Bubo scandiacus, translates to “Ghost of Scandinavia”.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 17-22 cm (6.7-8.7 in)
  • Weight: 54-151 g (1.9-5.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 42-56.3 cm (16.5-22.2 in)
  • Time of Year: Winter

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is one of the smallest owl species found in Tennessee. It is named after the sound of its call, which some say resembles the sound of a saw being sharpened.

They have a distinctive large round head, yellow eyes, and no ear tufts. They are covered in brown and white feathers, which provide perfect camouflage against the tree bark.

Primarily nocturnal, these owls live in dense forests, preferably near water bodies, and mainly feed on small rodents. Though tiny and often elusive due to their nocturnal habits, Northern Saw-Whet Owls can occasionally be spotted during their winter visits to Tennessee.

Did you know? Despite their small size and cute appearance, Northern Saw-Whet Owls are fierce predators. They often consume their prey in one gulp!

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: 90-100 cm (35.4-39.4 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

The Long-Eared Owl, as its name suggests, has prominent ear tufts that sit high on its head and give the illusion of long ears. This medium-sized owl species boasts a mottled brown and cream coloration, with dark rings around its piercing yellow eyes.

Known for their mysterious presence and ghost-like silence in flight, they inhabit mixed woodlands, often near open lands and water in Tennessee.

These owls are adept hunters, feeding mainly on small mammals like voles, mice, and rats. They are most active at night, but their distinct hoots can often be heard in the early evening or before dawn. During the day, they are exceptionally skilled at camouflage, making them a challenging find for birdwatchers.

Did you know? The “ears” of the Long-Eared Owl aren’t ears at all, but tufts of feathers. Their actual ears are hidden on the sides of their head, behind their eyes.

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 Year: Winter

The Short-Eared Owl is another winter visitor to Tennessee. This medium-sized owl has mottled brown and white plumage, and as the name suggests, short ear tufts which are often difficult to see. They have large, rounded wings and bright yellow eyes surrounded by dark patches, giving them a stern, intense look.

Short-Eared Owls are unique among North American owls for their diurnal hunting habits. They prefer open areas like grasslands or marshes where they hunt rodents and small birds, often hovering like a hawk before diving onto their prey. Observing these owls in flight is an absolute delight for bird enthusiasts.

Did you know? The Short-Eared Owl is one of the most widely distributed owls in the world, found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.

Where & How to Observe Owls in Tennessee

Tennessee offers an ideal habitat for various species of owls, thanks to its diverse range of ecosystems ranging from mountains and forests to grasslands and wetlands. Below are a few places where you might spot these magnificent creatures:

  1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: This park is home to a variety of owl species, including the Barred Owl and Great Horned Owl. Look out for them in the wooded areas during your visit.
  2. Reelfoot Lake State Park: Known for its cypress swamps, this park is a great location to spot Barred Owls and Barn Owls.
  3. Shelby Farms Park: Located in Memphis, this urban park is a habitat for Eastern Screech Owls and Great Horned Owls.
  4. Bledsoe Creek State Park: A favorite spot for birdwatchers, Bledsoe Creek State Park is a haven for owls, especially during the winter season.
  5. Cumberland Mountain State Park: Owls like the Great Horned Owl and Barred Owl are often seen here.
  6. Radnor Lake State Park: Located in Nashville, this park is home to Barred Owls and Eastern Screech Owls.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  • Listen for calls: Owls are known for their distinctive calls. Familiarize yourself with different owl calls and listen carefully, especially during dawn and dusk.
  • Look for pellets and droppings: These can give you clues about an owl’s presence and the type of prey they’re feeding on.
  • Take a guided birdwatching tour: Expert guides can provide invaluable advice and increase your chances of spotting these majestic creatures.
  • Patience and quiet are key: Owls can be elusive. Spend time quietly in areas where owls have been sighted previously.
  • Use appropriate gear: Binoculars or a good quality camera with a zoom lens can help spot owls perched high in trees or in the distance.
  • Respect their space: If you do spot an owl, keep your distance and don’t disturb them. Their comfort and safety should be the priority.

Remember, owl spotting is a matter of patience and persistence. Enjoy the serene beauty of Tennessee’s nature as you keep an eye out for these wonderful nocturnal creatures.

Owls in Other States

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