7 Owls that Live in Georgia (and Where You're Likely to See Them)
Owls are diverse creatures that live in almost every environment on Earth, from forests to deserts and everything in between. There are about 250 owl species in the world, and they inhabit every continent except Antarctica. These birds belong to the Strigiformes group, and they are divided into two families – those with heart-shaped faces and those with round. Owls, like eagles and hawks, are birds of prey who hunt and kill their meals using sharp talons and curved bills. They are also most active at night and famous for their low-frequency hoots and vocalizations recognized around the world. Check out the seven owls that live in Georgia and discover where you are most likely to see them.
Check out this article about the birds to watch in Georgia!
1. Barn Owl
This abundant bird is the most widely distributed owl species on Earth and inhabits almost every corner of the world except for desert and extreme polar regions. There are three major types of barn owls – the western barn owl, the eastern barn owl, and the American barn owl. American barn owls are the ones you will find in Georgia and throughout the rest of the United States, and technically it is a subspecies. It is native to North and South America, where you will find it across most of the United States.
In Georgia, barn owls are abundant in the agricultural areas of northern and southern counties. They also inhabit regions along marshes and coastal riverine systems. This owl species is very rare in the mountains and only occasionally lives in forested regions of the state. In the fields and grass marshes, Georgia barn owls primarily prey on cotton rats, marsh rice rats, least shrews, and voles.
You can recognize this owl by its medium size, pale brown or gray coloring, long wings, and short, square tail. It has a pale heart-shaped face and black eyes, giving it the appearance of a flat mask.
2. Eastern Screech Owl
The eastern screech owl is a small species native to Eastern North America, including Mexico, the United States, and Canada. This owl is common in most wooded environments and also adapts well to human structures and developments.
The eastern screech owl is the most common species in Georgia, where they live in both suburban and rural areas. You can find them in open woodlands or backyards that have mature trees. They need lots of land to hunt, but the size can vary depending on the owl’s location. For instance, those in suburban areas may utilize only 10 to 15 acres, while rural inhabitants can spread out up to 100 acres. Look for them in natural tree cavities, including abandoned northern flicker cavities, at least 10 feet above the ground.
These small owls range between six and ten inches long, weighing up to only eight ounces. Eastern screen owls are known for their intricately patterned plumage in rusty brown or dark gray. They are stocky and have large, round heads, yellow eyes, and ear tufts.
3. Barred Owl
This North American owl is a large species commonly found in the eastern portion of the continent. Barred owls live in the Eastern United States, including Georgia, where they live in old deciduous, mixed, and coniferous forests. In Georgia, you are likely to find them in many dense forests and even some swamps and other wetlands. These birds thrive in closed canopies with various water sources, like riparian areas and swamps.
The barred owl is somewhat subdued in appearance, featuring white, gray, and brown plumage that is heavily barred and streaked, hence the name. Its head is large and round with a pale gray face disc, and it lacks ear tufts. The eyes of the barred owl are black, round, and closely set, and its beak is bright yellow, sometimes giving a greenish tint. It is a large species that measures between 16 to 25 inches long and features a 38 to 49-inch wingspan.
4. Great Horned Owl
The great horned owl is a familiar species made famous by its depictions in many books, drawings, and movies. This wise old owl is a large species native to the Americas, where it has adapted well to humans and their neverending expansion. Also known as the tiger owl, this species has coloration made for camouflage. With heavy mottling and barring in a mixture of white, brown, gray, and black, the great horned owl blends perfectly with its surroundings.
Great horned owls are common birds in the American Southeast, including Georgia. They live in many habitats due to their high adaptability, and you can find them in forests, prairies, mangrove swamps, mountains, and even urban areas. Many Georgians claim to have nesting great horned owls on their properties and will even use nesting boxes.
5. Long-eared Owl
The long-eared owl is an uncommon species in Georgia, as it is a resident of more northern and western regions of the United States. However, you can find them in the state during the winter when they migrate south for warmer weather.
Long-eared owls are medium-sized owls with an extensive breeding range from Europe to North America and the Palearctic. These birds live in semi-open landscapes, like woodlands edges. They nest in dense woods but hunt over open fields, so a semi-open habitat serves them best.
With a slim frame, long wings, and prominent ear tufts, the long-eared owl is an easily recognizable species. They have tawny, gray, and brown coloring with black vertical streaks and spots. You can also find some white markings on their backs. Long-eared owls are medium-sized and measure between 12 and 16 inches long. They feature a wingspan of around three feet.
6. Short-eared Owl
The ear tufts of this owl appear like mammalian ears or, in most cases, are not visible. The short-eared owl is a widespread species that appears on all continents except Australia and Antarctica. It has one of the widest distributions of any bird in the world. While it lives across most of North America, the short-eared owl is uncommon in Georgia. This species is a resident of colder regions of the Northern United States and Canada and only comes to the South during winter. You are likelier to spot this owl in open areas, like grasslands and meadows, or anywhere with large tracts of land and low vegetation.
This owl is medium-sized and features a big head, large eyes, broad wings, and a short neck. They have mottled plumage in brown and tawny with heavy streaked upper breasts. The short-eared owl has a floppy flight with irregular wingbeats.
7. Northern Saw-whet Owl
This small species is native to North America, where it is the smallest owl species on the continent. This migratory bird breeds in Canada and some spots of the Western United States and winters across the Central regions of the country. Occasionally, this species will find its way to the Southeast during the winter, but its population is scarce. You can find them in coniferous forests and deciduous woods.
The northern saw-whet owl is one of the smallest species in North America, measuring between six and eight inches long. These owls are brown or reddish above and pale below, with shading and spots. Their faces are round and white with brown streaks. This species also lacks ear tufts.
A Summary of the 7 Owls that Live in Georgia
|Number||Owls That Live in Georga||Occurance|
|#2||Eastern screen owl||Common|
|#4||Great horned owl||Common|
|#7||Northern saw-whet owl||Uncommon|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Paolino Massimiliano Manuel