The 7 Species of Owls in Tennessee

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I was actually wondering earlier today what the different species of owls in Tennessee were. When I searched it up I had to do just a little bit of digging, there wasn’t an article that was just about the owls in Tennessee.

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So that’s what this is. Below are the 7 species of owls that I could confirm have a range in the state of Tennessee based on various sources including allaboutbirds.org, tn.gov, and others.

Why owls in Tennessee? Simply because I live in Tennessee and thought I’d help out the next person searching for owls in Tennessee.

Ok, on to the owls…

Owls in Tennessee

As I mentioned and you are about to see, there are 7 species of owls in Tennessee. The Eastern Screech-owl, Great Horned Owl, Barn Owl, Barred Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, and the Northern Saw-whet Owl. I’ve also added one bonus owl to the end of the list, a rare visitor to Tennessee.


1. Eastern Screech-owl

Length: 8.5″ (height)
Wingspan: 20″
Weight: 6 oz

The Eastern Screech-owl is a permanent resident to Tennessee and can be found all throughout the state. They are small owls that feed on various insects, rodents, and songbirds. Additionally, they are among the most numerous owls in Tennessee.


2. Great Horned Owl

Length: 22″ (height)
Wingspan: 44″
Weight: 3.1 lbs.

The Great Horned Owl is easily the largest owl that nests in Tennessee. They are also what many of us think of when we think of owls because they are in so many pictures and seem to be very photogenic. They are easily recognized by their large size, ear tufts, and yellow eyes. They are the only bird known to regularly kill and eat skunks.


3. Barn Owl

Length: 16″
Wingspan: 42″
Weight: 1 lb

Barn Owls are statewide residents of Tennessee but are highly elusive and rarely seen. They are also one of the most widely distributed birds in the entire world. The Barn Owl is easily identified by their beautiful plumage and heart-shaped face. They actually do nest in many man-made structures including barns, their population is thought to be on the decline in Tennessee.


4. Barred Owl

Length: 17.5″ (height)
Wingspan: 40″
Weight: 1.3 lbs

The Barred Owl has a stable population in Tennessee, but is more common in the middle and western parts of the state. They are known to be very vocal with a 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. The Barred Owl is commonly active in the day time giving you a better chance to see one that some other nocturnal only owls.


5. Long-eared owl

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

This medium sized owl isn’t a permanent resident of Tennessee and is listed as “scarce (non-breeding)” in the state by allaboutbirds.org. However they regularly pass through Tennessee and on rare occasion can be seen in the state if you know where and when to look. As the name suggests, they can easily be identified by their extra long ears.


6. Short-eared owl

Length: 15″
Wingspan: 38″
Weight: 12 oz

Also somewhat rare to the state, Short-eared Owls can sometimes be seen in Tennessee during the non-breeding season. They arrive in late November and leave by mid March. If you are lucky enough to see one it will likely during that time frame and in an open field or brushy area in the middle or western parts of the state, possibly near the Mississippi River.


7. Northern Saw-whet owl

Length: 8″ (height)
Wingspan: 17″
Weight: 2.8 oz

Not only is the Saw-whet the smallest owl found in Tennessee, but the smallest bird of prey in the entire country! They are non-breeding residents in the state and are listed as threatened in Tennessee. The best places to see a Northern Saw-whet Owl in Tennessee is likely going to be in the eastern part of the state near The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


8. Bonus owl – Snowy owl

Length: 20.5-27.9″ (height)
Wingspan: 49.6-57.1″
Weight: 56.4-104.1oz

While they are very rare visitors to the state of Tennessee, there have been confirmed sightings of Snowy Owls in Tennessee. These large owls are about the size of a Great Horned Owl and their white plumage makes them incredibly beautiful and a treat to see should you ever be lucky enough. Harry Potter’s owl, Hedwig, was a Snowy Owl.

Want to increase your chances of spotting one of these raptors?

Consider some binoculars or a spotting scope!

The 5 Best Binoculars For Bird Watching
The 5 Best Spotting Scopes
About Jesse

Jesse enjoys bird watching and feeding birds in his backyard, learning about the different species, and sharing his knowledge and experiences.

8 thoughts on “The 7 Species of Owls in Tennessee”

  1. Thank you for your knowledge of owls. When I was 4 or 5 years old (57 yrs ago). I was awakened very early morning by a noise outside my bedroom window. I groggily awakened to these large big round yellow eyes when I looked out into the yard. Of course my screams alerted my parents and my dad went out to investigate. It was a huge owl perched on the clothesline. Because of this post I now know that it was the Great Horned owl! I was afraid of owls throughout my childhood and beyond but within the last 10 years I’ve overcome my fears by learning more about them and hope to visit the GSMNP to go on an owl trek. Thank you again!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your story Barbara! I can see how that might be a frightening encounter as a child, a large own up close looking at you with those big eyes! I’m glad you aren’t afraid of them anymore, they are really beautiful birds and quite magical to encounter!

      Reply
  2. In Nashville , there is a state owned area called Ellington Agriculture Center which has wonderful walking trails. An early morning trail run was met with two beautiful (and quite large) owls that I believe were either barn or barred owls. I have photos. Spectacular creatures!
    Thank you for this informative article.

    Reply
  3. Lived in northern California near the Oregon border. A thrill of a lifetime was getting up early and seeing a spotted owl on bird feeling. We had been having trouble with wild rat that babies. Needless to say rats disappeared. While growing up in Maine remember seeing stories of them on extinction list. California was successful in bringing them back. Did not mention to many people. Logging industry was strong back when they were trying to save them. Will never understand were balance of jobs and saving wildlife works together. Anywho, have moved to southeastern Tennessee and took dog out at about 4a.m. Wooded are behind house in mountain have owl hoot to me. Awesome! now I have to find out more about Tennessee owls. Thanks for the information.

    Reply

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