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Owls of Pennsylvania (The 8 Main Species)

Pennsylvania is home to a wide range of birds of prey, including owls. The state has many different habitats that can support this variety of owls. So in this article which we’re talking about the owls of Pennsylvania. 

There are 8 species of owls found in PA. Below we give you an overview of each one along with a picture, some notable info, and a few facts including when and where you might see one in PA. 

Let’s have a look at the owls of Pennsylvania!

The 8 Species of owls of Pennsylvania

The 8 species of owls found in the state of Pennsylvania are: The Barn Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, Snowy Owl, Barred Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Long-eared Owl, and the Short-eared Owl. 

Some sources report the Northern Hawk Owl and the Boreal Owl as residents to PA but this is not true according to which the main source we use for this site. Any sightings of these species in the state are rare and don’t qualify them as residents.

1. Barn Owl

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

Barn owls have a very distinct appearance, with a heart shaped white face and black eyes. They like to roost and nest in barns and silos, hence their name, but also in dense trees and cavities.

After dark they fly low over open fields, grasslands and marshes, listening for prey scurrying below. In fact, it is thought they have the best ability of any animal to locate prey by sound alone! They will nest in owl boxes built to the appropriate size. They can be found year round throughout most of the state of Pennsylvania.

For more cool facts, we did a whole article about Barn Owls here

2. Eastern Screech owl

photo by: Shravans14 | CC 4.0

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

The tiny screech owl is one of the smallest on our list. Eastern Screech Owls are widespread, year round residents of Pennsylvania. Their plumage (which can appear in both gray and red varieties) resembles the coloring and patterns of bark so closely, that they almost disappear when sitting in tree nooks and cavities.

They have a diverse diet of small songbirds, mice, rats, moles, squirrels, insects, earthworms, frogs and lizards. They will readily use backyard owl boxes, and might even visit your bird bath. 

3. Great Horned owl

Image: HMaria |

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

The large great horned owl is one of the most easily recognized with its feather tufts that stick up from its head. They also produce the classic “hooting” sound often used in television to depict peaceful nights in the woods.

Their size and fierceness lets Great Horned owls go after almost any prey from rodents and frogs to falcons and other raptors. Their talons can exert 28 pounds of force to break the spine of their prey. Found year round in PA, these owls may also use a backyard owl box. They are some of the most widespread owls in the U.S. and are found in every state, except for Hawaii

Check out our article on Great Horned owls here for more fun facts.

4. Snowy Owl

Image: Glavo |

Scientific nameBubo scandiacus
Length: 20.5-27.9 in
Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz
Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 in

In the 24-hour daylight of summers at the arctic circle, Snowy owls can be found hunting lemmings at all hours of the day. Pennsylvania is just south of the winter range of the beautiful Snowy Owl. These owls have pure white plumage with light brown streaking and bright yellow eyes.

Look for Snowy owls in large open, treeless stretches such as the shore line, sand dunes and open fields. They often sit directly on the ground, and may sit still for hours surveying the area for sights and sounds of prey. You’re best chance of seeing Snowy Owls in PA is along the state’s northern boarders in the winter time, though Snowy Owls are becoming more and more frequent in southern states. 

Learn more about the Snowy Owl’s irruptive migration

5. Barred owl

Barred Owl (Image: birdfeederhub)

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

The large Barred Owl can be found year round in Pennsylvania. They do not migrate, and in fact once they establish a territory they don’t tend to stray far. They have a round head with a gray circular face, white breast with long brown streaks, and a brown and white mottled back.

You will most likely be alerted to their presence by their distinctive sounding hooting call that carriers far through the woods, often described as sounding like “who cooks for you? who cooks for you-all?”. During courtship, mated pairs can perform a chorus of bizarre sounding cackles, hoots, caws and gurgles called caterwauling. 

6. Long-eared owl

Image: Insubria |

Scientific nameAsio otus
Length: 13.8-15.8 in
Weight: 7.8-15.3 oz
Wingspan: 35.4-39.4 in

The long ear tufts that stick straight up from this owls head often give it an expression of permanent surprise. Long-eared Owls are dark and buffy brown, with an orange facial disk and light colored V-shaped feathers along the center of their face. It is believed they do not build their own nests, rather reuse nests built by other birds such as crows, ravens, hawks and magpies.

Long-eared Owls can be found year round in most of the state of Pennsylvania. You can hear their long, low hoots at night in the Spring and Summer in various woodlands and forests. 

7. Short-eared owl

Image: US Fish & Wildlife Service |

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

Short-eared Owls are most common during the winter throughout Pennsylvania. Usually, their small ear tufts are not visible like the long-eared owl. Their most distinguishing feature is the white ring around their round face, and their yellow eyes surrounded by black patches.

They can fly very long distances and are found around the globe, even on the Hawaiian islands. Look for them at dawn or dusk along the edges of open fields, grasslands or airports. 

8. Northern saw-whet owl

Image: CTolman |

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

Northern Saw-whet Owls are one of the most common in North America, but are so rarely seen in the daytime that any sightings are rare. During the day, these tiny owls roost in dense conifers, keeping themselves well hidden. Their main diet staple is mice, especially deer mice. It has been hard to study their migration since they are so hard to find, but researchers now know they can fly long distances over water such as the Great Lakes.

While found throughout the entire state, Northern Saw-whet Owls are year round residents in most of northern Pennsylvania and winter residents in southern parts of PA. Their call that sounds like “too-too-too”, is most often heard in January through May. Listen for it at night and in dense forests where they often live. 

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