It’s the 18th largest state in the country with an area of 71, 362 miles and within Washington state there are numerous types of climates. It’s also part of the only region in the United States where rainforests exist. There are many types of birds that live in here, including a large variety of common and rare owls. Keep on reading to learn all about the 15 species of owls in Washington State and the best tips for how to find them.
Species of Owls in Washington State
The 15 species of owls in Washington State are the Northern Saw-Whet Owl, Boreal Owl, Barn Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Western-Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, Short-Eared Owl, Great Gray Owl, Long-Eared Owl, Barred Owl, Northern Spotted Owl, Snowy Owl, Burrowing Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, and the Flammulated Owl.
Washington State is located in the northwestern corner of the United States, with the Canadian Province of British Columbia to it’s north and Oregon to it’s south.
The state is home a large variety of owls, including quite a few that aren’t found in a lot of other states in the country. Among the 15 species spotted here, 10 of them are found year round. Other species including, Flammulated Owls and Northern Hawk Owls are only found during certain times of the year.
1. Northern Saw-Whet Owl
Length: 7.1-8.3 in
Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 in
In the majority of Washington State, Northern Saw-whet Owls are found year-round — though there are some spots where only non-breeding populations reside. These owls tend to occupy dense coniferous forests and groves and can be pretty hard to locate due to their tiny size, camouflage-like coloration, and secretive nature.
It’s so good at perching motionless and avoiding attention that it’s frequently unnoticed in areas in which it occurs. Listen for it’s high-pitched “too-too-too” call to make finding it a little easier. During the breeding season males will repetitively make this call for hours — offering a good chance of spotting it.
If you live in Washington State, in an area where Northern Saw-whet Owls breed, consider putting up a nesting box for them. Not only will it provide a home for a breeding pair of owls, but it will also increase your chances of getting an up-close look at these tiny birds.
2. Boreal Owl
Length: 8.3-11.0 in
Weight: 3.3-7.6 oz
Wingspan: 21.6-24.4 in
Boreal Owls are found year-round in the eastern half of Washington State in dense mixed-wood and coniferous forests. They’re mysterious birds and are often hard to spot, especially during the day. They roost in a different tree everyday, so don’t expect to find them in the same spots.
At about the size of a robin, they’re small owls with large, square heads, stocky bodies, short tails. At night they perch and wait for prey such as small mammals and birds before swooping down and grasping their meal with their talons. Boreal owls are usually quiet and don’t call very frequently. However, in the late winter through the spring this behavior changes as males call more often for mates. Listen for these quick hoots at night for a better chance at finding them.
3. Barn Owl
Length: 12.6-15.8 in
Weight: 14.1-24.7 oz
Wingspan: 39.4-49.2 in
Barn Owls are commonly found throughout America and across the globe. In Washington State they’re found year-round in woodlands and open areas. They love to roost and nest in quiet, abandoned places like forgotten barns — hence the name “barn” owl. Farmland often provides plenty of rodents such as mice and voles that comprise the majority of these owls’ diets. At night they silently fly close to the ground, using their pristine eyesight and hearing to locate prey in the darkest of conditions.
These owls have pale, white faces with dark beady eyes. They’re medium-sized owls about the same size as a crow. Their calls aren’t the typical hoots that first come to mind, but rather harsh, raspy sounding screeches. Listen for them calling in the evening once the sun goes down, and keep your eyes peeled for a flash of white glide by.
4. Northern Pygmy-Owl
Length: 6.4-7.1 in
Weight: 2.1-2.5 oz
Wingspan: 14.5–16 in
Northern Pygmy-Owls are generally widespread in the mountainous western United States and are found year-round in most of Washington State. They’re active during the day, which makes seeing them a little easier than most other nocturnal owls, but they’re also pretty small and tend to perch still waiting for prey — so you still need to keep your eyes peeled.
Try to familiarize yourself with their high-pitched toots and calls to make locating them less tricky. Pay attention to groups of songbirds making a commotion, too. If they find a Northern Pygmy-Owl, they’ll often mob it, trying to get it to leave. It’s only fair seeing as small birds make up a large portion of a Northern Pygmy-Owl’s diet. These songbirds and chickadees may even attempt to mob a birder that imitates a Northern Pygmy-Owl’s call.
5. Western-Screech Owl
Length: 7.5-9.8 in
Weight: 3.5-10.8 oz
Wingspan: 21.6-24.4 in
Western-screech Owls are commonly found year-round in Washington State. They’re small, robin-sized owls with stocky bodies and short tails. Their mostly gray-brown plumage with streaky undersides camouflages them exceptionally well against trees when they’re roosting in holes during the day. At night they hunt, perching still and silently before swiftly flying and seizing their prey. They’ll also catch insects in mid flight to supplement their diet, as well as reptiles, fish, and small birds.
Like trying the find other nocturnal owls, waiting for their calls at night is often the best way of locating Western-screech Owls. Their calls are a series of high-pitched toots that speed up slightly at the end. These owls will also take to nesting boxes, so consider setting one up in your yard if you live in their range.
6. Great Horned Owl
Length: 18.1-24.8 in
Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz
Wingspan: 39.8-57.1 in
When one thinks of an owl, the Great Horned Owl is often what comes to mind. These owls possess all the characteristics synonymous with story-book owls; large, cat-like eyes, long tufts on their heads, thick, stocky bodies, and a deep, mysterious hoot.
They’re one of the most commonly found owls across North America and are found year-round in Washington State. Great Horned Owls thrive in a wide variety of habitats, but they’re often found in woodlands with plenty of open spaces to hunt. These large owls are aggressive hunters able of taking down prey much larger than them.
Their diets are diverse, including rodents, reptiles, and birds as large as hawks and geese. They’re able to fly silently and dive-bomb their prey, thanks to the soft feathers that cover their entire bodies.
7. Short-Eared Owl
Length: 13.4-16.9 in
Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz
Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 in
It’s common to find Short-eared Owls year-round in Washington State. They’re also one of the easier owl species to spot, due to their frequent daytime activity and tendency to occupy open spaces like fields and grasslands. Their broad, round wings allow them to gracefully flap close to the ground with a seemingly weightless appearance.
Unlike a lot of other owls, Short-eared Owls are also frequently found sitting directly on the ground. Although their name implies that they have short ears, their heads actually look perfectly smooth. Though they do have tufts, they’re very small and hard to see.
8. Great Gray Owl
Length: 24.0-33.1 in
Weight: 24.7-60.0 oz
Wingspan: 53.9-60.2 in
Great Gray Owls are found year-round in the eastern half of Washington State. They’re very large birds with broad wings and long tails — one of the tallest owls in America. Their eyes appear small and close together on their big facial disks, giving them a unique expression. A white “X” pattern on their faces is another key identifier. Like their name implies, their bodies are covered in fluffy, silvery gray feathers.
These owls are quiet and solemn, not really the type to bring attention to themselves. They reside in dense pine forests and on the edges of meadows, avoiding areas with people. Like most owls they are most active at night when they hunt, most often in the hours before dusk and dawn.
9. Long-Eared Owl
Length: 13.8-15.8 in
Weight: 7.8-15.3 oz
Wingspan: 35.4-39.4 in
Long-eared Owls are found year-round in only the eastern half of Washington, though non-breeding populations may be found during the winter in the western half. Though they’re fairly widespread, these owls are pretty secretive in nature, making them tricky to spot. During the day they roost in dense foliage, waking up to hunt at night.
Their plumage is a mixture of dark browns and grays which camouflages them nicely against trees. They get their name from the long tufts on the tops of their heads, giving them the appearance of having ears.
10. Barred Owl
Length: 16.9-19.7 in
Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz
Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 in
Though rare, there are small portions of Washington State where year-round populations of Barred Owls are found. The main range of these owls is the south eastern United States, primarily in swamps. In Washington State the best places to look for them are woodlands and forests near bodies of water. They’re most active at night, but they sometimes call and hunt during the daytime as well. Listening for their distinct, rich-sounding “who cooks for you?” call usually pans out better for finding these owls than just searching for them in the trees.
Barred owls are large birds with stocky bodies and smooth, round heads. Their eyes are wide and so deeply brown that they appear completely black. They have white and brown mottling all over their plumage, with vertical brown barring on their undersides and vertical barring on their upper parts.
11. Northern Spotted Owl
Length: 18.5-18.9 in
Weight: 17.6-24.7 oz
Wingspan: 39.8 in
Spotted Owls live in Washington State year-round, but finding them is extremely rare. It’s population has greatly declined due to the logging of old-growth forests, the Spotted Owl’s habitat. Competition with Barred Owls also makes survival more difficult for these owls.
Spotted Owls are slightly smaller than Barred Owls, with broad, rounded wings, short tails, and round heads. They’re covered in mostly dark brown plumage, with white dappling throughout. Their facial disks also feature a white “X” marking that helps identify them. Like most owls, Spotted Owls are active at night, when they hunt for small prey, mostly rodents. Their loud, deep hoots can sometimes echo for over a mile on still nights near forests.
12. Snowy Owl
Length: 20.5-27.9 in
Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz
Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 in
Snowy Owls aren’t commonly found in Washington State, but will sometimes appear in the winter during irruptive migrations, though this doesn’t happen every winter. At all other times of the year, Snowy Owls are primarily found in the arctic tundra and the majority of Canada in the winter. When they do appear in in the state, they’ve typically seen in spacious areas like fields.
Snowy Owls visually stand apart from other owls due to their beautiful snow-white plumage covering their large, round bodies. Females tend to have more black and dark brown markings scattering across their bodies, while males have less. Both sexes feature deep yellow eyes.
13. Burrowing Owl
Length: 7.5-9.8 in
Weight: 5.3 oz
Wingspan: 21.6 in
Though they’re more frequently found further south in America, breeding populations of Burrowing Owls are sometimes spotted in south eastern portions of Washington State. Their habitat is primarily wide stretches of grassland and prairie. Unlike most owls, Burrowing Owls nest underground, in dug out burrows and dens. These smart owls will also store extra food away in these underground chambers to sustain them through incubation and brooding periods.
Burrowing Owls are small, about the same height and length as a robin, but with stockier bodies. They have smooth, round heads with no ear tufts, and sandy-colored plumage with brown spots. These owls don’t rely on flying to catch prey, either. Instead, they hunt on the ground, chasing after insects and small animals with their long legs.
14. Northern Hawk Owl
Length: 14.2-17.7 in
Weight: 8.5-16.0 oz
Wingspan: 27.9 in
Northern Hawk Owls are generally found in Canada, but the southern range of non-breeding populations extends to most of Washington State. These interesting birds have the appearance of an owl, but the behavior of a hawk. They have oval-shaped, medium-sized bodies with short wings and a long, pointed tail.
Like many owls, they have large, round heads with yellow eyes and white faces. However, like hawks, they tend to hunt during the day around dawn and dusk, perching atop trees before gliding after prey. Also like hawks, their eyesight is tremendous and are able to spot prey from up to half a mile away.
15. Flammulated Owl
Length: 5.9-6.7 in
Weight: 1.5-2.2 oz
Wingspan: 15.9-16.1 in
Flammulated Owls are only found during the breeding season in eastern portions of Washington State, though they tend to be fairly common and widespread. They’re very small in size and share a similar silhouette as screech-owl, but with shorter tufts on the tops of their heads.
Spotting them often proves to be quite tricky, as their pale gray-brown plumage blends in perfectly with tree bark. These owls prefer to occupy mature pine forests, where they roost during the day and hunt at night. Locating them at night tends to be much easier than trying to see them during the day. Listen for their deceptively low hoot to track them. However, this feat may also prove to be a challenge, since their calls often seem farther away than they really are.