Owls are a specialty in the birding world because they are recognized as being wise and cryptic. Their night-time existence and evasive reputation make catching sight of them more challenging. In North Carolina, there are six different species of owls, and we’ll look at them in this article. Before we get into owls, here’s a quick introduction.
Owls are their ecological equivalents and the reigning nocturnal predators of the bird world, despite not being as frequently seen as day-dwelling birds of prey.
They have keen depth perception and good binocular vision, but their characteristic wide eyes are immobile on their head. Owls are capable of rotating their heads in either direction to explain for the eyes’ immobility.
In order to precisely detect a sound source and determine its direction and distance, some owls have asymmetrical ear openings. In complete darkness, this might assist them capture prey.
Their razor-sharp talons and bent beaks make them superb at capturing and eating prey.
The construction of feathers allows for nearly complete silent flight for the majority of species. Some feathers are able to absorb and diminish sound, demonstrating their potential as a bird of prey over time.
It might be challenging, but not impossible, to sight these nocturnal creatures.
Let’s talk about North Carolina’s owls now!
6 SPECIES OF OWLS IN NORTH CAROLINA
1. BARN OWL
Length: 12.6 – 15.8 in
Weight: 14.1 – 24.7 oz
Wingspan: 39.4 – 49.2 in
The rest of the list (except for the Tytonidae beauties) is comprised of Strigidae beauties, which are North American owls only.
Their heart-shaped face disk, serrated center claws, and tiny(ish) eyes distinguish them from the others. Their toes are exposed and their legs are long.
In flight, their faces and underwings are clearly visible. They are white. From buffy cinnamon to yellowish/gold, and even rusty, the rest of their body may vary.
The Barn Owls are strictly nocturnal and don’t come out during the day. Rats, mice, voles, lemmings, and other rodents are among the small mammals they eat each night. Shrews, bats, and rabbits are also eaten by them.
In North Carolina, these owls can be seen all year.
2. SHORT-EARED OWL
Length: 13.4 – 16.9 in
Weight: 7.3 – 16.8 oz
Wingspan: 33.5 – 40.5 in
With striped wings and streaked bellies, these guys are brown and buffy overall (the female being darker than the male). Itty bitty ear tufts are virtually unnoticeable. They have fierce, glamorous-model-like dark black eye patches. Or like KISS’ fifth member.
During the winter months, short-eared owls may be discovered across North Carolina.
Except for Antarctica and Australia, this owl may be found on every continent in the world. These species have a vast worldwide range, suggesting that they may fly over land and water. Hundreds of miles from shore, they have been seen landing on ships!
3. GREAT HORNED OWL
Length: 18.1 – 24.8 in
Weight: 32.1 – 88.2 oz
Wingspan: 39.8 – 57.1 in
The tops of these enormous owls are mostly grey, while the belly is barred. A prominent white feathering collar and huge ear tufts distinguish them. They have a “catlike” appearance, according to many people. In terms of color, they range across the region. Cinnamon hues dominate the breast and face of the Eastern form.
In North America, great-horned owls are a common sight. Their capacity to tolerate a wide range of environments is thought to be the reason for their widespread presence. Forests, meadows, rainforests, deserts, tundra borders, marshes, towns, and backyards are examples of this. They can be found in North Carolina all year.
These guys are strong and courageous. They have a grip strength of 28 pounds, which is incredible when you consider they weigh less than three pounds. They can tackle huge prey, such as Osprey, thanks to their super-owl power. They still snack on tiny snacks, such as frogs and scorpions.
Great-horned Owls are often mobbed by American Crows. Since crows provide a tasty meal, these owls are their most perilous adversary. Keeping an ear open for awful crow cawing may help you locate a Great Horned if you’re hunting for one.
4. BARRED OWL
Length: 16.9 – 19.7 in
Weight: 16.7 – 37.0 oz
Wingspan: 39.0 – 43.3 in
Barred owls have a barred tail and wings, as well as mottled brown and white markings. They have dark streaking on their pale bellies. Their pitch-black eyes shouldn’t make you uncomfortable if you make eye contact.
These owls may be seen all year in North Carolina. They prefer to stay in one place and don’t move around much. They’re big time homebodies. None of the 158 birds found after being banded had traveled more than 6 kilometers away, according to one banding trial.
It’s likely a Barred Owl if you hear a call like “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” while out and about at night. Mimicry is a quick and painless way to call them in.
5. NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL
Length: 7.1 – 8.3 in
Weight: 2.3 – 5.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.5 – 18.9 in
The overall color of the North Bay Saw-whet Owls is reddish brown, and their belly is streaked with brown. Between their eyes is a conspicuous white V, and on their huge skull, they have noticeable white spots.
They might have obtained their moniker from one of their calls, which seems like a sharpening stone being whetted on, but there is no agreement as to which call in particular gave rise to it.
These little things may be tiny, but they don’t let their size get in the way of accomplishing great things. These birds may fly across bodies of water as large as the Great Lakes. One person was seen landing in the Atlantic Ocean on a cargo ship 70 miles from shore!
Throughout the winter months, saw-whets can be found in the higher parts of North Carolina.
6. EASTERN SCREECH-OWL
Length: 6.3 – 9.8 in
Weight: 4.3 – 8.6 oz
Wingspan: 18.9 – 24.0 in
Screech Owls from the south have three color variants (gray, rufous, and intermediate) that are seen in most populations, although one is usually more dominant. The Rufous morph would be found in North Carolina. They have a black-rimmed facial disk and ear tufts, and they are more reddish overall. Their bellies are speckled white, and their shoulders have irregular streaks.
They may be found all year in North Carolina. In suburbs where there are fewer predators, they aren’t strangers; instead, they have higher fledglings rates. The male will stray and mate with a second female on occasion, but they typically mate for life. The first lady might be kicked out of the nest and replaced by the new girl, who may both incubate and raise her own eggs.