11 Species of Owls in Texas (With Pictures)

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Owls, mysterious and wise, are a favorite bird for many. The fact that most of us never see them due to their camouflage and nocturnal habits makes them all the more mysterious. It can also lead you to wonder just how many different kinds of owls can be found where I live? In this article we will look at owls in Texas. Such as what owls species live in the great state of Texas, a bit about their size and appearance, as well as what part of the state they can be found in.

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It is currently thought that there are about 19-20 species of owls found in North America. The “Lone Star” state of Texas is home to at least 11 of these owl species! One reason Texas has so many different types of owls is certainly its huge size. However it also has a unique geographic position.

Multiple climate zones can be found in Texas that mean huge variations in rainfall and seasonal temperatures occur across the state. This allows for many different habitats that can provide a home for a wider variety of owls.

The Species of Owls in Texas

The 11 species of owls in Texas are the Great Horned Owl, Flammulated Owl, Western Screech-owl, Eastern Screech-owl, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Elf Owl, Burrowing Owl, Barred Owl, Long-eared owl, Short-eared Owl, and the Northern Saw-whet Owl. 

While you can always get sightings of uncommon owls passing through or spending time over the border, our research from allaboutbirds.org and Audubon shows these 11 owls are currently considered to be found in Texas either year round or seasonally on a consistent basis.

There may be a few instances of the Mexican Spotted Owl in West Texas. If you’d like to see more about that species, take a look at this article of owls in New Mexico

1. 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 is the largest owl found in Texas, and is a year-round resident throughout the state. One of the most common and recognizable owls in North America due to their large size, yellow eyes and “horns” which are tufts of feathers that stick up on either side of their head. These owls can be found in many habitats, including forests, swamps, deserts and more urban areas such as city parks. Their plumage can vary in color across the country, generally they appear paler and grayer in the southwest than other areas. Great Horned Owls have a hugely diverse diet, consisting of mammals, birds, reptiles, insects and fish. The different owl species can make a wide variety of sounds, they don’t all hoot. However the Great Horned Owl hoot is what most people think of when they think of the sound owls make, and is often used in TV and movies.


2. Barn Owl

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

Barn Owls are found year round throughout Texas. They can be found mainly in open habitats such as grasslands, fields, ranch / agricultural land and strips of forest. Barn Owls like to nest in holes and crevices. This includes many man-made structures that have lots of eves and beams such as barns, attics and church steeples, likely how they got their name. They also nest in tree cavities, caves and cliff-sides.  These owls are very nocturnal and are unlikely to be found out during the daylight. At dusk and through the night, they fly low over fields using their amazing hearing to locate mice and other rodents. Their large, ghostly white face and belly can be quite a spooky sight if you catch a glimpse of them in low light!


3. Barred Owl

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

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The beautiful brown and white striped Barred Owl is mainly found in eastern Texas with its range extending out to Austin and San Antonio. These birds really like to stay close to home, often not even leaving a 10 mile radius. Although their range often overlaps with the Great Horned Owl, they do not like to be in the same area and will move to the far corners of their territory if a Great Horned is nearby. You may find them roosting in trees in the forest during the day, but you’re much more likely to notice them at night. Their loud and unique hooting call is described as sounding like “who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”. During courtship a mated pair will perform a duet of all sorts of hoots, honks, caws and gurgles.


4. Long-eared Owl

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

Long-eared Owls are migratory and can be found in parts of Texas during the winter. They will be found more frequently in western Texas in areas such as Amarillo and El Paso, but can also pass through eastern Texas less frequently. Their bright yellow eyes, white V shaped facial pattern and long feather tufts that point straight up on either side of their head can give them a constantly surprised expression. Long-eared owls are mostly silent when not in the breeding season, which means you won’t often hear their hooting in Texas. These medium sized owls are well camouflaged and sometimes roost together in groups, best found in pine stands near pasture or grassland areas.


5. Short-eared Owl

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

Short-eared owls spend the summer almost exclusively in Canada and the northern United States, only coming down into Texas during the winter. They can be found in patches all over the state, but more commonly in northern Texas or along the Gulf of Mexico. As their name implies, they do have “ear tuft” feathers but they are so short as to almost never be visible. During the winter look for them in marshes, gravel and rock quarries, fields, woodlots and thickets. Their populations in a certain area can vary year to year in close relation to the population of their prey such as moles, rats, rabbits and weasels. It is thought that their populations overall are in decline, as they are particularly sensitive to habitat loss and fragmentation from the large open grasslands they require being turned into farm land, grazing land, recreational areas and housing development.


6. Burrowing Owl

Length: 7.5-9.8 in
Wingspan: 21.6 in
Weight: 5.3 oz

Burrowing Owls can be found throughout the majority of Texas. In most of western and central Texas they can be found year-round, however are much more rare in far eastern portions of the state. These owls are quite small with long legs, and they live underground in burrows. Sometimes they dig these burrows themselves, and sometimes they take over burrows left from other animals such as prairie dogs or ground squirrels. They have even been found to use man-made structures such as pipes, buckets and culverts for burrows. You’ll find them in open habitats such as deserts and grasslands. They can be hard to spot as they are very small compared to the wide open landscape they call home, and when in their burrows barely peek above the horizon. Burrowing owls are most active at dawn and dusk.


7. Elf Owl

photo by: Dominic Sherony | CC 2.0

Length: 4.9 – 5.6 in
Wingspan: 10.5 in
Weight: 1.4 oz

Elf owls get their name from their incredibly small size, about the size of a large sparrow! They are considered the world’s smallest and lightest owl. Average length of Elf owls is about 4.9 to 5.7 inches with an average body weight of just 1.4 ounces. In Texas, you’ll only find them along the Mexican border during the summer. With a diet that is almost exclusively insects, they travel south into Mexico during the winter to ensure adequate food supply. Unfortunately they are becoming increasingly scarce in Texas, most likely due to loss of habitat. They live in Saguaro deserts and wooded canyons, and their nests are often in old woodpecker cavities in cactus, trees or even utility poles.


8. Flammulated Owl

Length: 6 in
Wingspan: 14 in
Weight: 1.8 – 2.3 oz

The Flammulated owl is another tiny owl, about the size of a soda can. Their small size and amazing camouflage make them near impossible to find during the daytime. These owls are mainly birds of the western United States, however Texas just makes it into their far eastern range. They can be found mainly in west Texas, however some sightings have been noted in east and south Texas. Some Flammulated owls breed here, while others only stop during migration. Your best chance of finding one would be to listen for their low-pitched hooting calls at night. They have a large windpipe for an owl their size. This allows their hoot to be lower in pitch than it normally would for a small bird. It is thought this might help trick predators into thinking they are much bigger owls and not worth chasing.


9. Western Screech-Owl

photo by: Shravans14 | CC 4.0

Length: 7.5 – 9.8 in
Wingspan: 21.6 – 24.4 in
Weight: 3.5 – 10.8 oz

Western Screech-Owls can be found all along the coast of western North America and in many states of the western U.S. Their territory dips into Texas on the states far western corners such as El Paso and the Big Bend National Park area. Screech-Owls are on the smaller size, only about 7-10 inches tall. They nest in tree cavities in both rural and urban areas. They have even been known to use owl boxes provided in urban backyards. When hiding inside tree cavities their perfectly camouflaged feathers make them very hard to find. Your best bet of finding one is like most owls, to listen for them. Their call is often described as a tooting sound having a pattern like that of a bouncing ball.


10. Eastern Screech-Owl

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

The same small stature as its western counterpart, the Eastern Screech Owl is common over most of the eastern half of the United States. This includes all of central, southern and eastern Texas, with it only being absent from Texas’s far western borders. Eastern Screech Owls can come in two plumage shades, gray or “red” (which is really a reddish brown). Reddish varieties have been found in northern Texas but not in southern Texas. Their name might suggest they make a screeching or screaming sound, but this is not true. They don’t hoot, but rather make trilling sounds or “whinnies” that sound like a high pitched horse. If you put up an appropriately sized nest box, you can attract eastern screech owls to your yard.


11. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

photo by: Ninahale | CC 4.0

Length: 5.9 – 7 in
Wingspan: 14.5 – 16 in
Weight: 2.2 – 2.7 oz

This cute little owl is common in the tropics of central and south America, but rare in the United States. Its only current territory in the states is southern Texas and Arizona. Even there, it is considered uncommon. Its preferred habitat in Texas is low strands of live oak and mesquite. A map of recent sightings shows some activity was found in Big Bend National Park and in coastal areas south of Corpus Christi. While they most frequently hunt near dusk and dawn like most owls, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls are known for being more active during the daytime than many other owl species. Their call is a high pitched series of whistling toots.

 

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.