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Owls are everywhere!

By Martha Fehl

Owls are the birds of dreams, heard but not often seen. Most are nocturnal, and all are intelligent and curious. If you want to see them you will have to look at night.

There are between 9 and 21 different species of owls that are residents of the United States.

All owls are predators and eat rodents, birds, reptiles, fish and  large insects. Often, you can find owls living near urban areas as well as in forests and woods and grasslands.

Owls have fourteen vertebrae in their necks which allow them to turn their heads 135 degrees in two directions, giving them a remarkable 270 degrees of vision.

Barn Owl
Barn Owl
Photo Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service
Screech Owl
Screech Owl
Photo Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service
Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl
Photo Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service


When they fly, they can be nearly silent as they approach their prey, because the sound of their flight muffled by softened, fluffy feathers on the edges of their wings.  Many owls have one ear hole that is higher than the other which helps to identify the source of sound, very useful in finding prey.

Let’s take a quick look the Elf, Screech, Barn, Snow and the Great Horned and Great Gray Owls.

Elf owls are only about five inches long when fully grown. Home is in the desert, generally in a hole a woodpecker previously has made in a tall cactus and abandoned. They delight in eating ants, grasshoppers and other insects. They are always on guard for larger owls who consider them a tasty snack. When captured, this tiny owl can play dead until all danger has passed.

Screech owls are small and agile and hunt from dusk to dawn.  They live in most areas of the United States, and reach a length of about eight inches when fully grown. They find their homes in buildings and woods, and sometimes a large vacant birdhouse. Food consists of small birds, fish, bats and insects. They will sometimes fly toward a person who imitates their call.

Barn Owls are also called monkey-faced owls.  They live in old buildings and hollow tree trunks.  Mice are their favorite food, and they can catch a dozen or more each night if they have babies to feed.  The screaming sound they make instead of a hoot might scare you out of  your skin.

Snowy owls—Snowies—live in Canada, Alaska and many of the northern United States. Their homes are built from soft moss, and they prefer to live on or near the ground. They eat lemmings, rabbits and ducks. Some may migrate south when food is scarce. Standing at about 20 inches tall, they are all white although younger birds are heavily barred with gray feathers.

Great Horned Owls are the second largest owl in America. They have a very distinctive because of their ear tufts—feathers that stick upward and resemble horns.  Fierce hunters, Great Horned owls catch rabbits, porcupines and have been known to enjoy skunk for lunch. They make a who who whoo whoo whoo call, and youngsters make hissing or screeching sounds which can be confused with the calls of Barn Owls.

Back To YBO Home Page The Great Gray Owl is the largest owl in North America and has a wing span of five feet. Its misty gray feather colors give it a ghost-like appearance in the forest. Great gray owls hunt during the daytime, mainly for rodents. They often use nests that have been abandoned by hawks or ravens and may use the same nest year after year.

For more information on owls of all types, and to visit an Owl Sounds Gallery, here’s a great website to visit:

Read more YBO Critter Tales

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Click here to read Colossal Condors--the largest flying land bird

Click here to read the Great Bustard--that's a REALLY big bird!

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