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8 Types of Owls to Watch for in Ohio (Pictures)

 Last Reviewed by Jesse Foutch on 02-09-2024

The Buckeye State, nestled in the northeastern United States between Kentucky to the south and Lake Erie to the north, provides a diverse habitat that supports eight distinct owl species. Ohio’s owl species include the Barn Owl, Barred Owl, Eastern Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl, Long-eared Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Short-eared Owl, and the Snowy Owl.

While Ohio is a haven primarily for these eight species, occasional sightings of the Boreal Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, and even the Great Gray Owl have occurred. Since such sightings are exceedingly rare, and Ohio lies outside of their typical range, we left them off of the following list to be as accurate as possible.

1. Eastern Screech-owl

Length: 6.3-9.8 in
Wingspan: 18.9-24.0 in
Weight: 4.3-8.6 oz

The Eastern Screech-owl is a year-round resident to Ohio and can be found all throughout the state. These small owls feed on various insects, rodents, and songbirds.

Eastern Screech-owls will readily take up residence in nest boxes, if you’d like to attract a mating pair then consider putting one up in your yard. They will also use bird baths if you have one in your yard.

eastern screech owl
Eastern Screech Owl | image by Susan Young via Flickr

Whether they’re using a nesting box that you provide or a tree cavity that they’ve found, the female and young rely on the slightly smaller male to hunt and bring them food. They prefer living in wooded areas near a water source but are commonly found in suburban areas.


2. Great Horned Owl

Length: 18.1-24.8 in
Wingspan: 39.8-57.1 in
Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz

The Great Horned Owl, Ohio’s second-largest owl species, is a formidable and adaptable predator that resides throughout the state and do not migrate. Distinguished by their impressive size, characteristic ear tufts, and piercing yellow eyes, these owls command attention.

great horned owl
Great Horned Owl | image by USFWS Pacific Region via Flickr

Unique among birds, they’re known for their ability to prey on skunks, showing their fearlessness. Moreover, they share a contentious relationship with Red-tailed Hawks, often leading to dramatic encounters.

The Great Horned Owl thrives in a variety of environments, and is as comfortable in the dense forests and swamps as it is in open fields. Their adaptability extends to human-altered landscapes, making them a familiar sight in both urban and suburban settings, including cities and parks. This wide-ranging habitat preference illustrates their versatile hunting skills and resilience in different ecosystems.


3. Barn Owl

Length: 12.6-15.8 in
Wingspan: 39.4-49.2 in
Weight: 14.1-24.7 oz

Another owl that lives in Ohio all year long is the beautiful but elusive Barn Owl. The Barn Owl is easily identified by their beautiful plumage and heart-shaped face. Barn Owls actually nest in many man-made structures including barns, which is where they got their name.

They are also one of the most widely distributed birds in the entire world with 46 different sub-species worldwide. The North American Barn Owl is the largest of all of these.

barn owl
Barn Owl

Barn Owls, like other owls, are nocturnal and may be spotted at night hunting for small mammals. They are known for swallowing their prey completely whole, bones and all. Rather than digesting food normally through their digestive tract, they will regurgitate “pellets” of what their bodies did not need for nutrition.

Barn owls have exceptional low-light sight and hearing which makes them amazing night hunters and feared by anything known to be their prey. They are able to track and capture their prey by sound alone better than any other animal ever tested.


4. Barred Owl

Length: 16.9-19.7 in
Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 in
Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz

The Barred Owl is common throughout the entire state of Ohio.  They are known to be very vocal and have a very recognizable call that sounds like they are saying; “Who cooks for you, Who cooks for you all?

As with most owls, they are not always easy to spot. You may get lucky and spot one roosting during the day time if you take a walk through a mature forest. Barred Owls don’t migrate and are generally sedentary by nature.

barred owl perched on branch
Barred Owl | image by Everglades National Park via Flickr

Their number 1 predator is the Great Horned Owl. If a Great Horned Owl moves into a Barred Owl’s territory, it will quickly vacate the area and move on, although likely not very far. Out of 155 Barred Owls studied, none of them ventured further than 6 miles away from where they were originally banded.

barn owl and barred owl
Barn owl on the left, barred owl on the right

5. Long-eared Owl

Length: 13.8-15.8 in 
Wingspan: 35.4-39.4″
Weight: 7.8-15.3 oz

In Northeastern Ohio Long-eared Owls are permanent residents, but in the rest of the state they are classified as non-breeding. They can easily be identified by their extra long ears, but are well camouflaged and may be hard to spot.

They are fierce and silent hunters that feed on the typical owl diet of small mammals and occasionally other birds. Like the Barn Owl they swallow their prey whole and regurgitate the unneeded parts in pellets. The call of the male Long-eared Owl can be heard from almost a mile away.


6. Short-eared Owl

Length: 13.4-16.9 in
Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 in
Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz

Short-eared Owls have a non-breeding population throughout the state of Ohio, except for in the Northwestern part of the state where they can be found year-round. You may have noticed a common trend with owls in Ohio, more species tend to be year-round residents near Lake Erie.

Your best chance to see Short-eared Owls in Ohio is during the non-breeding season from late November and to mid March. They can fly great distances when they migrate and have a very wide distribution range in North America from Mexico to the Northern tip of Alaska and everywhere in between.


7. Northern Saw-whet Owl

Length: 7.1-8.3 in
Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 in
Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz

Northern Saw-whet Owls are found all year in about the northern third of the state of Ohio, for the rest of the state they have a non-breeding range.  Not only is the Saw-whet the smallest owl found in Ohio, but the smallest bird of prey in the entire country!

northern saw whet owl
Northern saw-whet owl | source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

These tiny owls are about the size of an American Robin and got their name because of their call that sounds similar to that of a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone. They are generally very reclusive birds that prefer living in mature forests near a water source.

They feed mainly on mice but during migration will supplement their diets with insects, songbirds, and even other small owls.  Less is known about the migration and population of Northern Saw-whets because of their naturally elusive lifestyle.


8. Snowy Owl

Length: 20.5-27.9 in
Wingspan: 49.6-57.1″
Weight: 56.4-104.1oz

Snowy Owls are slightly larger than Great Horned Owls and their white plumage makes them incredibly beautiful and a treat to see should you ever be lucky enough. They are only found in the northern most parts of the state and in recent years have been spotted more often in the Winter along the southern shores of Lake Erie in Ohio.

snowy owl perched on fence post
Snowy Owl | image by USDA NRCS Montana via Flickr

Along with their white feathers, they have rounded heads with  no ear tufts like other owls do making them impossible to mistake for any other type of owl if you see one. Snowy Owls are not only the largest but in my opinion among the most beautiful owls in Ohio.

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2 thoughts on “8 Types of Owls to Watch for in Ohio (Pictures)”

    • That’s awesome, snowy’s are so beautiful. I have only had the luck to see one once myself. As a state up against our northern boarder, Ohio will definitely get some Snowy Owls that are exploring the southern end of their range. Some years there is a huge influx of Snowy Owls down into the U.S. called an “irruption”. If you want to learn more about irruptions and the movements of Snowy Owls check out Project Snow Storm.

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