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

West Virginia, known as the “Mountain State,” is a wonderful place for nature lovers, especially bird enthusiasts. With its varied geography and rich diversity of habitats, from the Appalachian Mountains to the Ohio River Valley, it’s a haven for a variety of bird species, including owls.

In this article, we’re going to explore the eight different owl species that call West Virginia home. We’ll delve into their characteristics, behaviors, and where you can spot these fascinating nocturnal creatures.

Owl Species Found in West Virginia

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 46 to 63 cm (18.1–24.8 in)
  • Weight: 910 to 2500 g (2–5.5 lb)
  • Wingspan: 101 to 145 cm (40–57 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Great Horned Owl is one of the most widespread and commonly recognized owl species in North America, including West Virginia. These large, powerful owls are recognizable by their “ear” tufts, large yellow eyes, and deep, resonating hoot.

Known as a skilled predator, the Great Horned Owl has a diverse diet, ranging from small rodents to other birds, reptiles, and even skunks. They inhabit forests, swamps, deserts, tundra edges, and tropical rainforests, but can also be found in suburban and urban areas.

Did you know? Great Horned Owls are known for their adaptability and are among the world’s most versatile birds in terms of habitat. They can nest in a variety of places, from tree holes and stumps to cliff edges and even human-made structures.

Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl
  • Scientific Name: Megascops asio
  • Size: 16 to 25 cm (6.3–9.8 in)
  • Weight: 121 to 244 g (4.3–8.6 oz)
  • Wingspan: 48 to 61 cm (19–24 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

One of the smallest species of owls found in West Virginia, the Eastern Screech Owl is small but mighty. Don’t let their diminutive size fool you — these owls are incredibly adaptable and just as efficient at hunting as their larger counterparts.

Their plumage varies from grey to red and blends seamlessly with tree bark, making them masters of camouflage. Eastern Screech Owls make their homes in various habitats, including woodlands, parks, and suburbs.

They’re most famous for their eerie and distinctive trilling call, which can vary from a soft whinnying to a harsh screech.

Did you know? The Eastern Screech Owl doesn’t always build its own nest. Instead, it often takes advantage of nests abandoned by other birds or natural cavities in trees.

Barred Owl

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

Characterized by its rounded head, large eyes, and distinctive hooting call, the Barred Owl is a common resident of West Virginia. These nocturnal birds get their name from the distinct horizontal ‘bars’ on their chest. They prefer mature forests and are frequently found near water bodies, such as wetlands and marshes.

Barred Owls are known for their diverse diet which includes small mammals, birds, amphibians, and invertebrates. Unlike many owl species, they are not particularly shy around humans and can often be observed during daylight hours, especially at dawn and dusk.

Did you know? Barred Owls are monogamous and form long-term pair bonds. They are known to reuse the same nesting site year after year, typically a tree cavity or sometimes an old nest left by another bird species.

Barn Owl

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

The Barn Owl, with its heart-shaped face and pale coloring, is a familiar sight in many parts of West Virginia. Named for its habit of nesting in barns and other buildings, the Barn Owl is a specialist hunter of small mammals, especially rodents, which it locates using its exceptional hearing.

Unlike most owls, Barn Owls do not hoot but emit a chilling, raspy screech. They are primarily nocturnal, but may also be active at dawn and dusk, hunting over open fields and meadows.

Did you know? Barn Owls are one of the most widespread of all birds – they’re found on all continents except Antarctica!

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 18 to 20 cm (7.1–7.9 in)
  • Weight: 54 to 151 g (1.9–5.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 42 to 56.3 cm (16.5–22.2 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is one of the smallest owl species found in West Virginia. Despite its small size, it is a fierce predator, primarily preying on small mammals and insects. It gets its unusual name from one of its calls that sounds similar to a saw being sharpened on a “whetting” stone.

Northern Saw-Whet Owls prefer dense thickets or conifers for nesting and roosting. They are mainly nocturnal and can be very difficult to spot due to their camouflaged plumage.

Did you know? The Northern Saw-Whet Owl migrates, and in some years, these migrations can be quite large. The reasons for these “irruptions” are not entirely known, but may relate to food availability.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 53 to 65 cm (20.9–25.6 in)
  • Weight: 1.6 to 3 kg (3.5–6.6 lb)
  • Wingspan: 125 to 150 cm (49–59 in)
  • Time of the Year: Winter

The Snowy Owl, is a rare and thrilling sight in West Virginia during the winter months. This bird of the Arctic tundra is known for its dazzling white plumage, offset by varying amounts of black or gray.

An opportunistic hunter, Snowy Owls feed mainly on small mammals, but aren’t averse to snatching other birds out of the air. Their presence in West Virginia typically correlates with fluctuations in their main prey species, lemmings, in the Arctic.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, Snowy Owls are diurnal and can often be seen hunting during the day, especially in winter when the nights are shorter.

Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio otus
  • Size: 31 to 40 cm (12–16 in)
  • Weight: 178 to 435 g (6.3–15.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 86 to 100 cm (34–39 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Long-Eared Owl, named for its ear-like feather tufts, is a secretive bird that can be found in West Virginia throughout the year. This medium-sized owl prefers dense stands of trees where it can roost and nest hidden from view.

They mainly feed on small mammals, and have the unique hunting strategy of waiting on a high perch and swooping down on their prey.

Did you know? When alarmed, the Long-Eared Owl will elongate its body to appear like a branch stub to evade detection, a behavior that is quite amusing to observe!

Short-Eared Owl

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

The Short-Eared Owl, a winter visitor to West Virginia, is a medium-sized owl with a rounded head and short ear tufts. They prefer open areas like fields, marshes, and grasslands where they hunt mostly small mammals.

What sets them apart is their diurnal nature, as they can often be seen flying low over open ground during daylight hours. Their distinctive, moth-like flight is a sight to behold.

Did you know? Short-Eared Owls are one of the most widely distributed birds, found on all continents except Australia and Antarctica!

Where & How to Observe Owls in West Virginia

In West Virginia, owls can be found in various habitats ranging from dense forests to open fields. Here’s a list of places where you’re likely to spot these fascinating birds:

  • Monongahela National Forest: This expansive forest is home to the Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, and Barred Owl. With its large, unfragmented forested areas, it’s an ideal habitat for these species.
  • Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge: Here, you can find Barn Owls, Short-Eared Owls, and potentially Snowy Owls in winter. The open fields and meadows are perfect for owls that prefer more open spaces.
  • New River Gorge National Park and Preserve: This area, particularly the mature forests, are suitable for spotting a variety of owls, including the Long-Eared Owl.

While these locations offer a great chance of seeing owls, remember that owls are nocturnal and often well camouflaged. Patience and a bit of luck are key.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  1. Go at the Right Time: Most owls are nocturnal and are most active during dusk and dawn. These are the best times to spot them.
  2. Move Quietly and Respectfully: Owls can be easily disturbed. Avoid any loud noise, and always observe from a distance.
  3. Use Your Ears: Many owls have distinctive calls. Learning these can help you locate owls even when you can’t see them.
  4. Look for Signs: Keep an eye out for owl pellets (regurgitated clumps of indigestible material) and whitewash (owl droppings) which can signal an owl’s presence.
  5. Get a Guide: Consider joining a local birding group or hiring a local guide who knows the area and understands the habits of local owls.

Remember, while it is exciting to spot these majestic creatures, it is also essential to respect their space and not disturb their natural behavior. Happy birdwatching!

Owls in Other States

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