There are seven species of owls in Georgia; Eastern Screech-Owls, Great Horned Owls, Barn Owls, Barred Owls, Short-eared Owls, Long-eared Owls, and Northern Saw-whet Owls.
Owls are known as indicator species, meaning they depend on the most sensitive aspects of an ecosystem to survive. Their presence is used to measure the health of an ecosystem. If plenty of owls are around, it’s generally a good sign that the local environment is balanced.
Let’s take a look at quick look at each of the 7 species of owls in Georgia.
The 7 Species of Owls in Georgia
1. Eastern Screech-Owl
Length: 6.3-9.8 in
Weight: 4.3-8.6 oz
Wingspan: 18.9-24.0 in
Eastern Screech-Owls are known for their effective camouflage. Even though they’re year-round owls in Georgia, you’ll have to have sharp eyesight to find them. Their grey and red-brown patterned feathers give them excellent camouflage for blending into trees.
They nestle in empty tree cavities in most kinds of woods and forests, often near water sources. They’re one of the many birds that benefit from the cavities and excavations made by woodpeckers. A good way of locating them is to listen for their trills at night, which sound somewhat similar to a horse’s whinny.
Paying attention to smaller birds may also help you locate one of these owls. If you hear a lot of noise and alarm calls coming from birds like blue jays and other members of the crow family, they could be in the process of mobbing an Eastern screech owl.
2. Great Horned Owl
Length: 18.1-24.8 in
Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz
Wingspan: 39.8-57.1 in
Great horned owls are easily recognizable among other birds of prey. Their signature deep hoot, feathered tufts on their heads, and large, yellow eyes are characteristics that have earned them a spot in countless stories and works of art.
They’re found year round in Georgia and also throughout North America. They occupy a large range of habitats including deciduous and evergreen forests, new forests with clearings and open areas, and even swamps.
Their soft, fluffy feathers keep them warm in the winter, and allow them to fly silently — a strong advantage when it comes to ambushing small rodents and other prey. Great horned owls like to dine on small rodents, reptiles, and bugs, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of taking down animals larger than them.
3. Barn Owl
Length: 12.6-15.8 in
Weight: 14.1-24.7 oz
Wingspan: 39.4-49.2 in
Find Barn owls year round in Georgia, as well as across the entire country. During the day they hide in dark, quiet places like abandoned barns or other man-made structures.
They have pale white faces with dark eyes, and light tan bodies with gray markings on their heads, necks, and upperwings.
At night they appear as a flash of white, as they soar across open fields and grasslands looking for a meal. They’re adept at using sound to locate small rodents— even under snow or vegetation.
They capture prey in the darkest of conditions using their sharp talons. To eat, they swallow their meals whole and spit out the indigestible remains as pellets. Unlike other owls they don’t hoot, instead they have alarming, screech-like calls.
4. Barred Owl
Length: 16.9-19.7 in
Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz
Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 in
Find Barred Owls year-round in Georgia in large evergreen and deciduous forests. They’re fairly large owls with mottled brown and white plumage, and dark eyes. Their soft brown coloration blends right into the trees they roost in during the day.
These birds don’t travel or migrate very far from their homes. Set up a nesting box in a mature forest to attract a breeding pair. For best results, install the box well before breeding season which occurs between March and August.
Barred owls wait until nightfall to hunt. The best way to find them is by listening for their distinct calls that sound like they’re saying “who cooks for you?” If you hear it, try imitating it back. If you wait quietly and patiently, they may even fly over to scope you out.
5. Short-Eared Owl
Length: 13.4-16.9 in
Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz
Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 in
Only non-breeding populations of Short-eared owls found in Georgia. Dawn and dusk is the best time to look for them. Unlike most owls, they can also frequently be seen in the daylight. Keep on the lookout for their pale faces with yellow eyes outlined in black.
When they fly they flap with smooth, stiff beats, making their flight appear graceful and effortless. Their broad, rounded wings help them cruise over open lands and fields without making a sound.
That flight pattern changes when it’s time to hunt, though. When chasing after their prey they tend to fly close to the ground, changing direction unpredictably.
6. Long-Eared Owl
Length: 13.8-15.8 in
Weight: 7.8-15.3 oz
Scare populations of non-breeding Long-eared Owl are found in the majority of Georgia. However, there are some southeastern areas of the state where these owls aren’t found at all. They’re pretty hard to spot due to their secretive nature and excellent camouflage.
During the day they lay low in dense forests, coming out to open areas at night to hunt. They’re very agile when it comes to flying and hunting — using their super-sensitive hearing to catch prey in the darkest of conditions.
Like other owls, listening for their calls is the best way to locate them. Listen for their long, deep hoots and barking calls during spring and summer nights. They roost together in large numbers during the winter, giving you a good opportunity to observe them.
7. Northern Saw-Whet Owl
Length: 7.1-8.3 in
Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 in
As if these tiny, elusive birds weren’t already hard to see — only scare, non-breeding populations of Northern saw-whet owls are found in Georgia.
It’s thought that their name comes from the sound a saw makes when sharpened on a whetting stone. If you listen closely on quiet nights from January to May, you might just hear their short, high pitched toot-toot-toot call.
These owls are only about the size of an American Robin. They have cute faces with yellow cat-like eyes and large heads for their small frames. Like cats, they don’t get along with songbirds. In fact, a good way to tell if one is around is to observe small birds making a ruckus, which they often do when trying to get a roosting Northern saw-whet owl to scram.
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