Owls of the Northeast

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The northeastern United States is home to seven types of owls. The populations of eastern screech-owls, great horned owls, barred owls and northern saw-whet owls are stable and even increasing. The common barn owl, long-eared owl and short-eared owl populations are in decline.

Common Barn Owl

Barn owls have only one mate.
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The common barn owl (Tyto alba) is one of the most common owls around the world and in the northeast. Many barn owls migrate to the southeast during winter, but others are year-round residents. Barn owls are white on the underside of their bodies and have white faces. The head and back are brown. The largest barn owls weigh only about a pound and a half.

Eastern Screech-Owl

Screech owls often nest in old woodpecker holes.
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The eastern screech-owl (Megascops asio) ranges across all of the eastern United States. It does not migrate and begins courting in late winter and early spring. The screech owl has noticeable ear tufts and yellow eyes. Its body coloring ranges from gray to brown. The largest screech owls weigh about a half-pound. The screech owl will make its home in various habitats, including wooded subdivisions.

Great Horned Owl

Mated great horned owls work together at raising young.
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The great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is the largest and most ferocious predator among the northeastern owls. Weighing more than 3 pounds, great horned owls are found throughout much of the U.S. They prey upon rodents, fish and insects. Their most notable feature is their large ear tufts. Their coloring ranges from shades of brown to black. The great horned owl also has a white marking on its neck and a white belly.

Barred Owl

Multiple barred owls can sometimes be heard calling back and forth to each other.
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The barred owl (Strix varia) is found throughout the eastern U.S. Averaging just over a pound, the owl’s coloring is rotated bars of brown and white. The barred owl flies quickly away when disturbed and can sometimes be heard calling during daylight. More northern populations are sometimes migratory.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Mice are the main food source of the northern saw-whet owl.
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The northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus) is the smallest of the northeastern owls, weighing less than half a pound. Its coloring is brown with white streaks. The northern saw-whet owl has yellow eyes and no ear tufts. A woodland bird, it freezes when approached.

Long-Eared Owl

The long-eared owl makes its home in nests abandoned by squirrels or other birds.
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The long-eared owl (Asio otus) has a range across the northeast. Weighing slightly more than a half-pound, the long-eared owl is the most strictly nocturnal of the northeastern owls. As would be expected, the ear tufts are especially long. Some of the more northern birds migrate in the fall. With colorings ranging from gray to brown, the long-eared owl rarely calls except during courtship.

Short-Eared Owl

Short-eared owls have been known to dive at humans who get too close to their nests.
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The short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) is found throughout the northeast, but usually migrates to the south for breeding. Weighing up to a pound, the short-eared owl is brown and black with a white face and yellow eyes. As its name suggests, these owls have short ear tufts that are not usually visible.


About the Author

Bethney Foster is social justice coordinator for Mercy Junction ministry, where she edits the monthly publication "Holy Heretic." She is also an adoption coordinator with a pet rescue agency. Foster spent nearly two decades as a newspaper reporter/editor. She graduated from Campbellsville University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English, journalism and political science.

Photo Credits

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