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All 15 Owl Species Found in Washington (With Pictures & Info)

Washington State, renowned for its diverse habitats from coastal regions to dense forests and high mountain ranges, is home to a spectacular variety of wildlife, including numerous owl species.

This article serves as a guide for those passionate birdwatchers, casual hikers, and nature enthusiasts who wish to explore the nocturnal avian world of Washington and get a glimpse of these fascinating creatures.

Owl Species Found in Washington

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

One of the most widespread owls in the Americas, the Great Horned Owl holds a strong presence in Washington. Easily identifiable by its prominent ear tufts or “horns,” it inhabits a variety of environments ranging from deserts to forests to urban areas.

This versatile bird of prey has a diet as diverse as its habitat, consuming everything from small rodents to larger mammals and other birds.

Its deep, resonating hoots echo through the woods, adding a mysterious ambiance to the nocturnal soundscape. The Great Horned Owl’s high adaptability makes it a dominant predator, but it also has a softer side: it’s known for its strong parental care, with both parents nurturing the young until they’re ready to fend for themselves.

Did you know? Despite their name, the “horns” of the Great Horned Owl are not actually ears, but tufts of feathers called plumicorns that are used for communication and camouflage.

Flammulated Owl

Flammulated Owl
  • Scientific Name: Psiloscops flammeolus
  • Size: 14–16 cm (5.5–6.3 in)
  • Weight: 45–63 g (1.6–2.2 oz)
  • Wingspan: 35–37 cm (14–15 in)
  • Time of Year: Mostly spotted during the breeding season (Spring and Summer)

The Flammulated Owl is a small owl that bears a distinct grey, brown, and rust-colored mottled appearance, giving it impeccable camouflage against tree bark.

Predominantly insectivorous, this species is known to migrate to Mexico and Central America during the colder months, feeding on a diet primarily composed of moths and beetles.

Their ventriloquial hoots often lead listeners astray, making them a tricky species to spot. Flammulated Owls are aptly named after the flame-like markings on their face and underparts, adding a fiery touch to their otherwise subtle coloration.

Did you know? The Flammulated Owl is one of the smallest owl species in North America, and unlike many other owl species, it has dark-colored eyes instead of yellow or orange.

Western Screech Owl

Western Screech Owl
  • Scientific Name: Megascops kennicottii
  • Size: 19–25 cm (7.5–9.8 in)
  • Weight: 100–215 g (3.5–7.6 oz)
  • Wingspan: 54–61 cm (21–24 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

The Western Screech Owl, despite its name, doesn’t screech. Its voice is characterized by a series of hollow toots, while its grey-brown plumage with intricate patterning offers perfect camouflage against tree bark.

This compact owl is found in various habitats throughout the state, from desert canyons to deciduous and mixed forests, even adapting well to suburban environments.

Western Screech Owls are well-equipped for a diet of small animals, including rodents, small birds, and large insects. They hunt primarily from dusk till dawn, often perched on a tree waiting to swoop down on unsuspecting prey.

Did you know? Western Screech Owls can have a surprising amount of variation in their coloration, with some individuals being almost entirely grey while others sport a significantly browner coat. This adaptability helps them blend into their surroundings effectively.

Barred Owl

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

The Barred Owl, also known as the hoot owl for its distinctive call, is a large species that is native to the east coast but has increasingly been found in the Pacific Northwest.

This owl, known for its rounded head without ear tufts and brown-eyed stare, possesses an intriguing pattern of white and brown vertical barring on its chest contrasted with horizontal barring on its belly.

Barred Owls inhabit mixed forests and heavily wooded swamps, thriving in dense foliage where they roost during the day. At night, they become active hunters, preying on a wide variety of small animals, including squirrels, mice, voles, rabbits, birds, amphibians, and even fish.

Did you know? Unlike most other owl species that have yellow eyes, the Barred Owl has dark brown, almost black eyes.

Boreal Owl

Boreal Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius funereus
  • Size: 21–27 cm (8.3–10.6 in)
  • Weight: 80–170 g (2.8–6.0 oz)
  • Wingspan: 50–62 cm (20–24 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round, most visible in the Winter

The Boreal Owl or Tengmalm’s Owl is a small but feisty owl that resides in the dense coniferous forests across the northern hemisphere.

These owls, often concealed by their cryptic plumage that provides effective camouflage against the bark of trees, become more noticeable in the winter months when they venture further south in search of food.

Boreal Owls are quite elusive and are more often heard than seen. Their diet primarily consists of small mammals, particularly voles. These owls are known for their distinct facial disc, white-spotted heads, and yellow eyes that provide a stark contrast against a dark background.

Did you know? The Boreal Owl has exceptional hearing, with asymmetrical ear openings that allow it to precisely pinpoint the location of prey, even under a layer of snow!

Great Gray Owl

Great Grey Owl
  • Scientific Name: Strix nebulosa
  • Size: 61–84 cm (24–33 in)
  • Weight: 790–1450 g (1.7–3.2 lb)
  • Wingspan: 134–152 cm (52–60 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round, most visible in the Winter

The Great Gray Owl is one of the world’s largest owls by length, recognized by its large, rounded head, yellow eyes surrounded by a “facial disc”, and a black “bow tie” marking across the throat.

These impressive birds inhabit boreal forests and mountainous regions, preferring areas with a mix of old-growth trees and open meadows.

Great Gray Owls are skilled hunters that primarily feed on small mammals. Their distinct hunting technique involves perching silently on a low post, listening and watching for prey, before diving down to catch it, often beneath thick layers of snow.

Did you know? Despite its large size, the Great Gray Owl preys mostly on small rodents due to its relatively light weight. Its large appearance is a result of its dense, fluffy plumage.

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

With a distinctive heart-shaped facial disc and ghostly white underparts, the Barn Owl is a species easy to recognize. This owl is widely distributed and is often seen in open habitats like farmlands, marshes, and grasslands where it can use its keen sense of hearing to locate small mammals in the undergrowth.

Despite being nocturnal, Barn Owls are occasionally active during the day. They tend to nest in cavities of trees or, as their name implies, in barns and other abandoned structures, making them a familiar sight in rural and suburban areas.

Did you know? Barn Owls do not hoot like most owl species. Instead, they emit a long, eerie, high-pitched screech, which has often been associated with ghost stories and folklore.

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 Year: Year-round, more visible during the fall migration

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is a small and secretive bird, with a cat-like face, oversized head, and bright yellow eyes. Its preferred habitats are dense thickets and coniferous forests.

Although this owl is found across much of North America, it can be tough to spot due to its small size and preference for staying well hidden during the day.

Saw-Whet Owls primarily feed on small mammals, particularly deer mice, and they have the ability to capture prey in complete darkness using their acute sense of hearing. Their breeding season starts in late winter, and they often use abandoned cavities of other bird species to nest.

Did you know? The Northern Saw-Whet Owl got its name from one of its calls that was said to resemble the sound of a saw being whetted (sharpened).

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl
  • Scientific Name: Athene cunicularia
  • Size: 19–28 cm (7.5–11.0 in)
  • Weight: 140–240 g (4.9–8.5 oz)
  • Wingspan: 50.8–61 cm (20.0–24.0 in)
  • Time of Year: Primarily Spring and Summer

The Burrowing Owl is an interesting species that, unlike most owls, is active during the day, especially in the early morning and late afternoon. They are small, long-legged birds that live in burrows in the ground, often in prairies, open fields, or airports, hence their name. These owls have a notable appearance with their white eyebrows and bright yellow eyes.

While Burrowing Owls can fly, they often choose to hunt by running along the ground, feeding on a diet of small rodents, insects, and even small birds. They have a fascinating array of vocalizations that they use to communicate, ranging from coos to screams.

Did you know? Burrowing Owls often use mammal dung to line the entrance to their burrows. This attracts beetles and other insects, which the owls then catch and eat.

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl
  • Scientific Name: Surnia ulula
  • Size: 36–42.5 cm (14.2–16.7 in)
  • Weight: 300–400 g (10.6–14.1 oz)
  • Wingspan: 69–80 cm (27.2–31.5 in)
  • Time of Year: Rare winter visitor in Washington

The Northern Hawk Owl is an intriguing species, named for its hawk-like behavior and appearance. As a non-migratory bird, it resides primarily in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska, but occasionally it is spotted in northern parts of the U.S. during the winter, including Washington. It is known for its long tail, smooth rounded head without ear tufts, and distinctive white eyebrows.

The Northern Hawk Owl hunts mostly during the daytime, utilizing an extraordinary vision that can spot prey up to half a mile away. Its diet consists primarily of small mammals and some birds. Unlike many owls, the Northern Hawk Owl nests in trees rather than cavities or on the ground.

Did you know? The Northern Hawk Owl is one of the few owl species that are largely diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, much like hawks.

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 (34–39 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round, but easier to observe in winter

The Long-Eared Owl is a medium-sized owl, named for its long ear tufts that resemble mammalian ears. They are shy, quiet, and prefer dense foliage where they can roost during the day. Its preferred habitats include forests close to open country.

Long-Eared Owls primarily eat small mammals, especially voles and mice. They also feed on birds, particularly in winter when mammals are harder to find. They have a deep hooting call that carries over long distances, primarily used during the breeding season.

Did you know? Despite their name, the Long-Eared Owl’s ‘ears’ are not ears at all, but rather, tufts of feathers called plumicorns that only resemble ears. The actual ears are on the sides of their head, hidden under the feathers.

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: Year-round, but more common in winter

The Short-Eared Owl, a medium-sized species, is known for its widespread distribution, spanning many parts of the world. In Washington, this species is primarily seen in winter. Its preferred habitats are open areas like grasslands, marshes, agricultural fields, and tundra.

With small ear tufts that are often difficult to see, the Short-Eared Owl hunts primarily at dawn and dusk, sweeping low over open ground in search of small mammals like mice and voles. In flight, they exhibit a unique, moth-like wingbeat, which makes them easily identifiable.

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.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 52–71 cm (20.5–28 in)
  • Weight: 1.6–3 kg (3.5–6.6 lb)
  • Wingspan: 125–150 cm (49–59 in)
  • Time of Year: Winter

The stunning Snowy Owl is undoubtedly one of the most iconic species of owls, largely due to its unmistakable appearance. Its brilliant white plumage makes it a sight to behold, particularly in contrast to the barren winter landscapes of its native Arctic tundra. Snowy Owls have been known to venture south into Washington during the winter when their food supply in the Arctic is low.

Snowy Owls hunt during the day and night, feeding primarily on small mammals like lemmings and voles. In flight, they are silent, powerful, and agile, demonstrating an impressive hunting prowess that is admired worldwide.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, Snowy Owls are diurnal and do most of their hunting during the day, a trait that has adapted to the long days of the Arctic summer.

Spotted Owl

Northern Spotted Owl
  • Scientific Name: Strix occidentalis
  • Size: 43–50 cm (16.9–19.7 in)
  • Weight: 600–700 g (1.3–1.5 lb)
  • Wingspan: 114–127 cm (44.9–50 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

The Spotted Owl, renowned for its distinctive white spots on a dark brown body, is a permanent resident in the forests of Washington. This species favors dense, old-growth forests and steep, wooded canyons with lots of cover to protect against predators and harsh weather.

The Spotted Owl is nocturnal, feeding on small mammals such as woodrats, flying squirrels, and rabbits. A less common sight compared to other owl species, their elusive nature and penchant for dense forest habitats make them a treasured sight for birdwatchers.

Did you know? Spotted Owls are one of the species most affected by habitat loss in North America, with old-growth logging posing a significant threat to their survival.

Northern Pygmy Owl

Northern Pygmy Owl
  • Scientific Name: Glaucidium gnoma
  • Size: 16–19 cm (6.3–7.5 in)
  • Weight: 61–73 g (2.2–2.6 oz)
  • Wingspan: 38 cm (15 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

The Northern Pygmy Owl is one of the smallest owls found in Washington. This tiny predator, known for its false eye spots on the back of its head, is more often heard than seen due to its petite size and preference for dense forest habitats.

These owls hunt during the day, with their diet including small mammals and birds. Their ‘false eyes’ are thought to protect them from potential attackers while they are perched or nesting during the day.

Did you know? Despite their small size, Northern Pygmy Owls are fearless hunters and can take down prey larger than themselves, including birds up to the size of Mourning Doves.

Where & How to Observe Owls in Washington

Washington State, with its rich array of ecosystems ranging from coastal areas, wetlands, and old-growth forests to scrublands and mountainous regions, is a haven for a diverse set of owl species.

Here are some of the best places and habitats to look for owls in the state:

  • Olympic National Park: This park offers a variety of habitats, making it home to several owl species including the Northern Spotted Owl, Barred Owl, and Western Screech Owl.
  • Mount Rainier National Park: Great place to spot Great Gray Owls and Great Horned Owls.
  • Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge: This area is an excellent spot for observing Barn Owls and Short-Eared Owls in the wetlands.
  • Gifford Pinchot National Forest: This dense forest is home to the Northern Spotted Owl and the Northern Pygmy Owl.
  • Wenatchee National Forest: Known for sightings of Flammulated Owls and Northern Saw-Whet Owls.

In terms of habitats, dense old-growth forests are a favorite of species like the Spotted Owl and Western Screech Owl, while open landscapes and wetlands are more suited to the Barn Owl and Short-Eared Owl. The Burrowing Owl favors prairie habitats and is often found around ground squirrel burrows.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  • Owls are primarily nocturnal, so your best chance of seeing them is at dawn or dusk.
  • Bring a good pair of binoculars and a field guide for owl identification.
  • Listen for owl calls and look for signs such as pellets and whitewash.
  • Keep a respectful distance and do not disturb the owls, especially during breeding season.
  • Joining a local bird watching group can provide valuable guidance and increase your chances of spotting these fascinating creatures.
  • Remember, some species, like the Northern Spotted Owl, are endangered and protected by law. Observing them should be done responsibly and from a distance.

Owls in Other States

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