8 Owls In Illinois (With Pictures)

Owls are seen with awe and mystery by many people. Because of their camouflage and nightlife habits, we seldom encounter them, making them even more fascinating. It might also make you wonder how many different owl species there are in my neighborhood? We’ll take a look at the eight different kinds of owls found in Illinois in this article.


Barn owl, barred owl, eastern screech owl, great-horned owl, northern saw-whet owl, short-eared owl, and snowy owl are the eight species of owls that frequent Illinois.


  • Scientific name: Tyto alba
  • Length: 12.6 – 15.8 in
  • Wingspan: 39.4 – 49.2 in
  • Weight: 14.1 – 24.7 oz

Although they can be challenging to spot, barn owls are present year-round in Illinois. Grasslands, fields, ranches, agricultural land, and strips of forest are their preferred open habitats.

Man-made constructions with a lot of eaves and beams, such as barns, attics, and church steeples, are favorites for Barn Owls to breed. This is most likely how they earned their nickname. Tree holes, cave entrances, and cliff walls are also used to breed. At midday, Barn Owls are difficult to locate since they are very nocturnal.

They fly low over fields at night, using their superior hearing to detect mice and other rodents, and they do so until dusk. If you catch a glimpse of them in low light, their huge, ghostly white face and belly can be rather frightening!


  • Scientific name: Strix varia
  • Length: 16.9 – 19.7 in
  • Wingspan: 39.0 – 43.3 in
  • Weight: 16.6 – 37.0 oz

The gorgeous brown and white striped barred owl is very frequent in Illinois throughout the year. These birds prefer to remain close to home and may even spend the majority of their lives within a 10-mile radius.

These birds do not like to be in the same area as the great horned owl, despite their ranges frequently overlapping. Barred owl eggs, juvenile birds, and even adults are all targets for great horned owls.

Barred owls favor wooded areas near water, particularly if there are extensive stretches of uninterrupted woodland. During the day, they may be seen roosting in trees on a hike. When hunting, on the other hand, they are most active at night.

Their loud, distinctive hooting cry has been compared to “who cooks for you?” “Who cooks for you all?” A mated pair will sing a variety of hoots, honks, caws, and gurgles throughout the course of their courting.


  • Scientific name: Megascops asio
  • Length: 6.3 – 9.8 in
  • Wingspan: 18.9 – 24.0 in
  • Weight: 4.3 – 8.6 oz

Throughout most of the eastern United States, including Illinois, this little owl is seen year-round.

Gray, brown, or “red,” which is really a reddish brown, are the three plumage colors of eastern screech owls. The patterns on their feathers allow them to blend in with tree bark, whether they are brown or white.

They’re known for making a shrill or screaming noise, although this isn’t accurate. They don’t hoot, instead producing trilling noises or “whinnies,” which sound like a high-pitched horse.

Eastern screech owls will come to your yard if you construct an appropriately sized nest box. Farmland, city parks, and suburban communities are all home to these little owls. Almost anyplace with some tree cover is fine.


  • Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
  • Length: 18.1 – 24.8 in
  • Wingspan: 39.8 – 57.1 in
  • Weight: 32.1 – 88.2 oz

Due to their large size, yellow eyes, and “horns” that are tufts of feathers that stick out on either side of their head, great horned owls are one of the most common and recognizable owls in North America. Illinois has them all year round.

Forests, swamps, deserts, and urban settings such as city parks are among the habitats in which these owls may be found. Most of them have a cool or warm brown plumage, which can change color. Throughout Illinois, they’re found year-round.

Mammalian, avian, reptile, insect, and fish are among the foods of great horned owls. The sound owls make is most often referred to as their hoot, and it is frequently used in television and film.


  • Scientific name: Asio otus
  • Length: 13.8 – 15.8 in (height)
  • Wingspan: 35.4 – 39.4 in
  • Weight: 7.8 – 15.3 oz

During the non-breeding season, long-eared owls may be seen in Illinois. They’re far less prevalent than other species in the state, so finding them requires a little effort. Pine stands or woods near grassland and pastures are their preferred habitat.

They can have a constantly surprised expression due to their bright yellow eyes, white V-shaped facial pattern, round facial disc, and long feather tufts that point straight up. Great horned owls may be distinguished from one another by their rounded face with a white V.

Although they aren’t in their breeding season, long-eared owls are generally quiet, hence you won’t often hear them hooting in Illinois. Nonetheless, during this time of year, they do occasionally roost in groups, making it easier to find them.

Because of their excellent camouflage and tendency to roost in thick forests, they are difficult to detect.


  • Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Length: 7.1-8.3 inches
  • Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz
  • Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 inches

The northern saw-whet owl is little, with a spherical skull and golden eyes. These owls are also notoriously difficult to locate due to their tiny size, as well as a few other factors.

When they’re perched motionlessly on a branch, their mottled brown plumage blends in readily to the trees around them. Because they are only active at night, you won’t see these owls when it’s light out since they are also naturally secretive.

Learn the call and listen for it at night, particularly between January and May, when they call most frequently. This is the best way to find a northern saw-whet owl. They are known as the “saw-whet” owl because of their unique cry, which sounds like a blade being sharpened on a whetstone. A succession of whistled notes of the same pitch make up their too-too-too call.

The diet of these owls primarily includes tiny mammals like mice and voles, and they prefer thick and mature woods. These owls may spend the whole year in northern Illinois, but will only visit during the winter.


  • Scientific name: Asio flammeus
  • Length: 15 in
  • Wingspan: 38 in
  • Weight: 12 oz

The summer is nearly entirely spent in Canada and the northern United States by short-eared owls. In northern Illinois, you may see them all year, although the rest of the state will only be able to see them during the non-breeding season.

They feature “ear tuft” feathers, however they are so tiny that they are practically never seen. Look for them in marshes, gravel and rock quarries, fields, woodlots, and thickets throughout the winter. Because of their prey, such as moles, rats, rabbits and weasels, their populations in a certain region may fluctuate from year to year.

They are vulnerable to habitat degradation and fragmentation caused by the massive open grasslands they require, which is forcing them to become farm land, grazing land, leisure areas, and housing development. Their populations are thought to be declining overall.

They are actually distributed across the globe and can travel over open water for long distances.


  • Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Length: 20.5-27.9 inches
  • Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz
  • Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 inches

Snowy owls are a winter visitor to most of Canada, but they are expanding their range southward each year. Although the owl’s winter range technically only encompasses the northeastern section of Illinois, it has been sighted all over. Depending on how many owls were born that summer and whether there is more food further north, population will fluctuate significantly from year to year.

During the summer, these stunning owls go far north to breed in Canada’s and Greenland’s arctic areas. At any time of day, they’ll be tracking down their favorite summer meal: lemmings

Because of their bright white plumage, snowy owls are easier to see than other owls when they are close by. These are diurnal, unlike most other owls, who are nocturnal. For hunting, they favor wide open areas like fields and beaches. Look for them on the ground, perched out in the open, or high up in trees.

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