Discover 6 Incredibly Rare Types of Owls (and Where They Live)
Owls are some of the most abundant animals on the planet. These successful birds of prey are famous for their huge eyes, keen eyesight and hearing, and their nearly soundless flight as they hunt. They’re found everywhere on earth, from deserts to wetlands to tropical forests to mountains. The only place they’re missing are Antarctica, the coldest parts of the Arctic and a few islands. Yet, there are some owls that are quite rare. Here are six incredibly rare owls and where they live.
1. Spectacled Owl
This owl, Pulsatrix perspicillata is found in rainforests and woods from the south of Mexico, down through Central America to Argentina and on some islands in the Caribbean. It prefers to live near a body of water. The owl gets its name because it looks like its large yellow eyes are peering out behind white spectacles. Besides this, the owl has a white “ribbon” and a dark band around its throat. Its top part is dark brown on top and its breast is dingy white or light yellow. Interestingly, the plumage of the chick is the opposite of the adult, and it may need to molt as many as five times until it reaches mature plumage.
Spectacled owls are 16.9 to 18 inches long, with a wing span of 2.5 to 3 feet. As with most raptors, or birds of prey, female owls are bigger than males. He weighs, at most, 1.5 pounds. She can weigh as much as 2 pounds. The male is also notable because he makes a sound that resembles the knocking of a woodpecker.
What They Eat
As carnivores, spectacled owls eat smaller birds, small mammals, crabs, frogs and insects. Though they’re usually nocturnal, they have been seen hunting during the day. They hide in foliage, and swoop down on a prey that passes beneath it.
The owl’s mating season is either in the spring at the start of the dry season or in late summer to early fall at the start of the wet season. The female usually lays two eggs in a tree cavity. The incubation period is about 36 days, and the owl is ready to breed when it’s three to five years old. It may breed before it has its adult plumage.
Though the mother does most of the work, both parents incubate eggs while the other is out hunting. Though two eggs are laid only one chick lives, and it will leave the nest before it can truly fly. The parents take care of it for another year. Spectacled owls can live as long as 35 years, even in the wild.
The conservation status of the spectacled owl is least concern, but its population may be threatened by hunting and logging of the old growth forests it prefers. The bird also takes a long time before it’s ready to reproduce and raises one chick at a time. The chick may be dependent for so long that it interferes with the parents attempt to breed again. Some subspecies must be considered incredibly rare. One, P.p. trinitatis, may indeed be extinct.
2. Forest Owlet
The forest owlet, Athene blewitti is only found in forests in central India. These are deciduous forests populated with such trees as teak, crepe myrtle and the endangered Boswellia serrata. The forest owlet was an elusive bird even in the late 19th century when it was first described and was thought extinct from 1887 until it was found again in 1997. As of 2023, conservationists believe there are fewer than 1,000 of these birds left in the wild.
Athene blewitti is a small owl, only about 9 inches long. It has a large head that lacks ear tufts and a large beak. Its yellow eyes stare out of a beige-gray facial disk, and it has bands on its wings and tail. Its dorsal area is grayish brown, while the upper part of the ventral area is brown while the lower part is white. When the bird flies, you can see a dark patch on the underside of its wing.
During the breeding season the female incubates the eggs while the male feeds her. When the eggs hatch, he continues to feed the female, and she’ll in turn feed the chicks. Sometimes, a male chick kills and eats his sibling. The chicks fledge after about a month.
The forest owlet hunts small mammals, lizards, frogs, smaller birds, and invertebrates. The owl is often seen hunting early in the morning.
The forest owlet’s conservation status is endangered due to habitat destruction.
3. Blakiston’s Fish Owl
This incredibly rare owl, Ketupa (or Bubo) blakistoni is the largest owl in the world. Found in the far eastern part of Russia, Japan, North Korea, and China, it is 24 to 28 inches long with a wingspan of between 5 foot 10 inches to 6 foot 7 inches. It weighs between 6.5 and 10 pounds, and as is usual with raptors, females are bigger than males. The owl’s face is tan, striped in black, with white eyebrows.
These fish owls are notable for having “flat faces” due to their facial disks, which are made up of flat feathers. Its eyes seem smaller than the eyes of other owls. Like the great horned owl and the Eurasian eagle owl, it has ear tufts, and the plumage of its wings and tail is dark brown, striped with yellow. The chest and belly are buff with vertical stippling. Overall, Blakiston’s fish owl has a robust build and a beak that’s a bit longer than other owl’s, the better to help it catch fish.
You’ll find Blakiston’s fish owl in old growth mixed forests near bodies of water, especially those that don’t freeze solid in the winter. The trees have to be large enough to accommodate cavities for the nests of these big birds.
What They Eat
As the name implies, K. blakistoni hunts aquatic animals, mostly fish. The owls are partial to salmon, trout, catfish, and pike. It doesn’t matter if the fish weighs more than this powerful bird of prey. They also eat amphibians, including frogs, and crustaceans such as crayfish and freshwater crabs. Now and then the owl takes mammals. As with fish, Blakiston’s fish owl can take prey bigger and heavier than it is, including foxes and smaller breeds of dog. It also hunts other birds, including herons and has been known to eat carrion. This owl hunts at dawn and dusk.
To catch fish, the owl wades through the water or waits at the edge of the water until it sees movement. It can wait for hours. Then itx’ll simply drop onto or fly to the prey. The owl is also different from others in that it spends a lot of time on the ground and may even create desire paths through the forest.
The owl’s breeding season is January and February and the female lays one to three eggs in a tree cavity at least 39 feet off the ground. She incubates the eggs while the male hunts for food. The eggs hatch in a little over a month, and the owlets fledge between 35 an 40 days after birth. Still, their parents feed them for a few more months. The owlets sometimes hang around their parents’ territory for as long as two years. This is when some of the owlets form pair bonds of their own, though they’re not really ready to breed until they’re three.
The conservation status of Blakiston’s fish owl is endangered due to destruction of its habitat as the old growth forests they need are logged. There are probably less than 5,000 of these owls living in the wild.
4. Eurasian Eagle-owl
The Eurasian eagle-owl, Bubo bubo, is found not only in Eurasia but in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. It lives in a variety of habitats as long as there are good nesting sites and abundant prey. You’ll find the eagle-owl in the woods, in deserts, alongside rivers, and in the mountains. It also inhabits farms, swamps and grasslands. However, you may hear the owl more than you’ll see it, for it’s an elusive bird.
The eagle-owl is one of the largest owls in the world. These birds are between 22.83 to 27.95 inches long and can have a wingspan of over 6 feet. They weigh between 3.5 to 9.25 pounds. They resemble the great horned owl of North America and have ear tufts and barred and banned plumage in shades of black, brown and buff, with white throats. The plumage is also notable because it’s lighter at the top and darker near the bottom, and birds that live in northeastern countries are lighter than those in the west. The owl is also memorable for its huge, orange eyes.
Eurasian eagle-owls mate for life, and their breeding season runs from December to April. They prefer nests in crevices, cliffs and other rocky places or large nests that other birds have abandoned. The female lays between one to four eggs, depending on how plentiful food has been all yer.
The eggs hatch in two to three months, and the female broods the owlets for two weeks or so. Only she incubates the eggs and broods the owlets. The male brings food to her, and she feeds the owlets in turn. The babies fledge in about five to six months, and they’re independent by the time they’re a year old. Some owlets are also ready to breed when they’re about a year old. Eurasian eagle-owls can breed until they’re about 31 years old, even though they can live as long as 68 years.
Diet and Conservation Status
Eagle-owls are solitary save the breeding season. They’re also territorial and will fight another owl who encroaches. They hunt at night and spend the day resting in the treetops. They hunt by snatching birds out of the air. These birds don’t even need to be smaller than the owl, for they’ve been known to catch ducks and geese. They also fall upon prey on the ground. These include insects, reptiles and mammals. As with the birds, the mammals don’t need to be particularly small. The eagle owl, a huge and powerful bird, has been known to take fawns.
The Eurasian eagle-owl’s conservation status is least concern, but it’s considered a rare owl, and its numbers are in decline due to habitat disruption and destruction.
5. Spotted Owl
The subject of an intense battle between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the spotted owl, Strix ocidentalis is endemic to the western areas of North America. You’ll find it in deep forests of mixed conifers, canyon walls and tree-covered ravines from southern British Columbia to central Mexico. These owls are about 1.48 feet long with a 3.75 foot wingspan. They weigh about 1.3 pounds, and females are larger. The right ear opening is slightly larger than the left, and the bird has a pair of rather unnerving, totally black eyes.
The owl’s genus, Strix, is the classification of owls who do not have ear-tufts. The spotted owl’s feathers are dark brown, with the head and the nape of the neck bearing white spots. The breast and the belly are also mottled white. How pale or dark the owl is depends on where it lives. Owls that live in along the coast are darker, while those that live in the mountains of Mexico and Arizona are the palest. Spotted owls dislike heat and will fly to a cooler place to avoid uncomfortably high temperatures. They’ll also pant to cool down.
What They Eat
Spotted owls are nocturnal and prey on different mammals, especially those that climb trees, birds, bats and the larger insects. They rely more on their hearing than their eyesight to hunt. When they catch a prey animal, spotted owls tear off an ear, if it has one, then use their beak to break its spine. They always eat the head first.
Breeding, Diet, Conservation Status
The spotted owl breeds from the early spring into the fall, and they are monogamous. They’ll nest in places that are shady, including cliffs, caves, tree cavities, tree stumps, and canyons. The owls seldom build their own nests but take over the abandoned nests of other large birds. They’ll even lay their eggs on bare ground. The female usually lays two eggs but can lay as many as four. She does most of the incubation and brooding while the male hunts and brings food back to her and the owlets. Interestingly, the parents eat the head of their prey and feed the rest to the owlets. Owls are ready to breed when they’re about a year old. They live about 21 years.
The conservation status of the spotted owl depends on where it lives. It’s endangered in Washington state, on a special concern list in California and threatened in Oregon. This is because logging is destroying the spotted owl’s habitat.
6. Long-whiskered Owlet
Xenoglaux loweryi is found only in cloud forests of the Andean mountains of northern Peru. Cloud forests are populated by trees, often covered by moss, orchids, and epiphytes that are kept moist by drifting clouds. The little owl that flies through these forests has a brown body, a white belly, white eyebrows, and big, orange eyes. It lacks ear tufts, but its facial disk extends out in a way that makes it look like it has long whiskers. Its somewhat odd look gives it is genus name of Xenoglaux, which means “strange owl.” It is the only owl in its genus, and its range is tiny and under threat.
The owl itself is tiny, with a body length of between 5.1 and 5.51 inches and a weight between 1.62 and 1.8 ounces. Since it’s so small, it mostly eats insects.
Not much is known about this incredibly rare owl, and conservationists believe there are only about 250 to 1,000 of these birds left. Because of this, its conservation status is vulnerable.