Owls are seen with suspicion and fascination by many individuals. The camouflage and nocturnal habits of these creatures make them even more fascinating since most of us never get to see them. It might also make you wonder how many different kinds of owls may be discovered in my neighborhood? We’ll take a look at eight different owl species in West Virginia in this article.
8 OWLS IN WEST VIRGINIA
The barn owl, barred owl, eastern screech owl, great-horned owl, long-eared Owl, northern saw-whet Owl, short-eared Owl and snowy Owl are the eight species of owls found in West Virginia.
1. BARN OWL
- Scientific name: Tyto alba
- Length: 12.6 – 15.8 in
- Wingspan: 39.4 – 49.2 in
- Weight: 14.1 – 24.7 oz
In West Virginia, barn owls may be difficult to locate all year round. Grasslands, fields, ranches, agricultural land, and strips of forest are among their favorite open environments.
Man-made buildings with a lot of eaves and beams, such as barns, attics, and church steeples, are favorite nesting sites for barn owls. One way they got their name was probably this. Tree cavities, caverns, and cliff-side nooks are also used as nests. During the day, Barn Owls are difficult to find because they are quite nocturnal.
They fly low over fields at dusk and throughout the night, using their exceptional hearing to detect mice and other rodents. If you see them in low light, their huge, pale white face and belly can be a pretty terrifying sight!
2. BARRED OWL
- 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 barred owl is ubiquitous in West Virginia and can be seen all year. These birds prefer to reside in close proximity to their homes, often for the rest of their lives.
They do not like to be in the same area as the great horned owl, despite their range frequently overlapping. Bared owl eggs, juvenile birds, and sometimes even mature owls are all eaten by great horned owls.
Barred owls favor wooded areas near water, particularly if there are enormous tracks of uninterrupted woodland. On a hike, you may see them roosting in trees at any time of day. The most active time for them, however, is at night while hunting.
Their loud, distinctive hoot is likened to “who prepares for you?” in its unique sound. “Who prepares your meals?” During courting, a mated pair will sing a variety of hoots, honks, caws, and gurgles in a chorus.
3. EASTERN SCREECH-OWL
- Scientific name: Megascops asio
- Length: 6.3 – 9.8 in
- Wingspan: 18.9 – 24.0 in
- Weight: 4.3 – 8.6 oz
Throughout much of the eastern United States, especially in West Virginia, this tiny owl is found year-round.
Gray, brown, or “red” (really a reddish brown) are the three plumage tones of Johnny-wrens in the north. The patterns on their feathers, no matter what color, help them blend in with tree bark and provide excellent camouflage.
The name may imply that they emit a piercing or wailing sound, however this is not accurate. They make trilling noises or “whinnies,” which sound like a high-pitched horse, instead of hooting.
You may entice eastern screech owls to your property by placing up an appropriately sized nest box. Farmland, city parks, and suburban neighborhoods are all home to these little owls. Anywhere with trees provides some cover.
4. GREAT HORNED OWL
- 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 enormous size, yellow eyes, and “horns” of feathers that protrude out on either side of their skull, great horned owls are one of the most prevalent and well-known owls in North America.
Forest, swamps, deserts, and urban environments like city parks are among the habitats where these owls may be found. Most of them have a cool or warm brown plumage that can change color. They can be found year-round in West Virginia.
Mammalian, bird, reptile, insect, and fish are among the foods eaten by great horned owls. The sound owls make is often referred to as their hoot, which most people associate with the sound.
5. LONG-EARED OWL
- 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 found in West Virginia. In the state, they’re less prevalent than other species, so you’ll have to seek them out. Pine stands or woods near grassland and pastures are their preferred habitat.
They have a constantly surprised appearance with their bright yellow eyes, white V-shaped facial pattern, round face disc, and long feather tufts that point straight up. Great horned owls are easily differentiated from each other by their rounded face with a white V.
When not in breeding season, long-eared owls are mostly quiet, making it unlikely that you will hear them hooting throughout West Virginia. However, at this time of year, they do roost in groups from time to time, which can help you locate them.
Because of their exceptional camouflage and tendency to roost in thick woods, they are difficult to locate.
6. NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL
- Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
- Length: 7.1-8.3 inches
- Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz
- Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 inches
The little Northern saw-whet owl has yellow eyes and a spherical head. There are a few other reasons why these owls are notoriously difficult to locate, in addition to their small size.
When they’re perched motionlessly on a branch, their mottled brown plumage blends in easily to the trees around them. These owls are mostly active at night, so you won’t encounter them during the day unless you’re actively searching for them.
Between January and May, when they call the most frequently, the best bet for finding a northern saw-whet owl is to learn its call and listen for it at night. The name “saw-whet” owl comes from their distinct call, 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 is primarily made up of tiny mammals like mice and voles, and they prefer thick and mature woods. They may be found all year in West Virginia’s northeastern corner, but are mostly active during the non-breeding months elsewhere in the state.
7. SHORT-EARED OWL
- Scientific name: Asio flammeus
- Length: 15 in
- Wingspan: 38 in
- Weight: 12 oz
The summer is practically dominated by Canada and the northern United States, with the exception of a few visits to West Virginia during the non-breeding season.
They have “ear tuft” feathers, but they are so short that they are virtually never visible. As a result of their name, Marshes, gravel and rock quarries, fields, woodlots, and thickets are all good places to look for them during the winter. In response to the population of their prey, such as moles, rats, rabbits, and weasels, their populations in a specific region might fluctuate from year to year.
Because they are particularly susceptible to habitat destruction and fragmentation from the vast open grasslands they need being transformed into agricultural land, grazing land, recreational sites, and housing development, it is believed that their populations overall are in decline.
They can travel great distances across open water and may be found in a variety of locations all around the globe.
8. SNOWY OWL
- 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 found across much of Canada during the winter, but each year, this owl migrates farther south into the United States. Sightings are rather uncommon in West Virginia, although they do happen.
During the summer, these lovely owls fly north to Canada’s and Greenland’s Arctic areas to breed. Throughout the day, they’ll be hunting lemmings, their favorite summer delicacy.
Because of their vivid white plumage, if there are snowy owls in the area, they are easier to spot than other owls. They are diurnal, unlike most other owls, and thus active during the day. They hunt in wide-open areas, such as fields and beaches. Look for them on the ground or perched out in the open, especially during the winter.