9 Types of Owls in Illinois

Hello, and welcome to this article on the nine types of owls that can be found in Illinois.

Owls are fascinating creatures that have captured the imagination of people for centuries.

These nocturnal birds of prey are known for their exceptional hunting abilities, silent flight, and distinctive calls.

In Illinois, owls can be found in a variety of habitats, from dense forests to open grasslands.

In this article, we will explore the eight types of owls that call Illinois home, their unique characteristics, and where you can spot them.

So, whether you’re an avid bird watcher or simply curious about these fascinating creatures, read on to learn more about the owls of Illinois.

Great Horned OwlGreat Horned Owl
Northern Saw Whet OwlNorthern Saw Whet Owl
Barn OwlBarn Owl
Barred OwlBarred Owl
Snowy OwlSnowy Owl
Eastern Screech OwlEastern Screech Owl
Northern Hawk OwlNorthern Hawk Owl
Short-Eared OwlShort-Eared Owl
Long-Eared OwlLong-Eared Owl

Types of Owls in Illinois

1. Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl is among the most widespread and easily recognizable species of owl across North America.

This is because of the great horned owl’s massive size, bright eyes, and “horns,” which are actually tufts of feathers that jut out on each side of its head.

They are available throughout the year in the state of Illinois.

These owls may be encountered in a variety of environments, such as deserts, marshes, woods, and even urban places like city parks.

Their feathers may be any hue, but most of them are either a cold or warm shade of brown.

They may be found throughout the state of Illinois at any time of the year.

The food of a great horned owl is rather varied since it includes mammals, fish, reptiles, and birds, in addition to insects and fish.

The hoot that owls produce is the sound that most people seem to think of when they hear the sound owls emit, and it is frequently utilized in movies and television shows.

2. Northern Saw Whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl

From October through March, Northern Saw-whet Owls may be seen throughout Illinois, although they are more common across the northern regions.

They do not, however, appear often.

The Northern Saw-whet Owl, which is approximately the size of a robin, is among the tiniest owls in North America.

Their little brown bodies contrast with their big, spherical heads that have thin white stripes.

They have brilliant yellow eyes with a white “Y” of plumage in between.

The specks of white color on their dark bodies and wings set them apart.

Their white bodies are spotted with brown on the stomach and chest.

Adolescents’ dark discs of skin are topped with white eyebrows that stand out starkly against their brown hair.

Their bellies are a uniform cinnamon color, and their backs appear spotless.

In the western and northern parts of the United States and Canada, the Northern Saw-whet Owl is a year-round inhabitant.

They may spend the winter at lower elevations, along with the rest of the United States.

The Northern Saw-whet Owl lives in deep coniferous woods, where it roosts inconspicuously amid the underbrush and tree limbs.

They want to be close to a water supply and a grassy area where they may hunt.

Because of their nocturnal habits, they often catch mice from a perch.

It’s possible that they also consume rats, mice, birds, and shrews.

Tree holes created by other species, like Pileated Woodpeckers, are used by Northern Saw-whet Owls for nesting.

They will deposit their eggs just on top of the trash without even bothering to make a nest.

The incubation period for a clutch of 4 to 7 eggs laid by the female lasts two months.

Whereas the female is incubating, the male’s duty is to feed her.

3. Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Even though Barn Owls are thought to be an uncommon or incidental species throughout Illinois, you may see them year-round in the southern part of the state since they don’t migrate.

Barn owls, which may come in as many as 35 different subspecies, are among the most widely distributed terrestrial birds, appearing everywhere except the Sahara Desert and Antarctica.

Among the most adored owls, Barn Owls have white hearts on their faces and black eyes.

Spots of varied sizes cover their otherwise white abdomen, underwings, and chests.

Their top bodies are a rainbow of shades of red, grey, and brown. Long, curved wings, small tails, and long legs characterize these species.

Barn owls are resident in their native ranges, so you may find them all throughout the United States and even in northwest Canada.

Barn owls like more open environments and may be seen in the periphery of woods, on farmlands, in suburban areas, and even in urban areas.

Barn owls spend the day roosting in a variety of unusual places, so keep an eye out for hollow logs, barns, and tree holes.

Barn owls possess the finest hearing of any bird studied, hence they rely primarily on hearing to locate prey.

This aids them in seeing their prey in the pitch black or when it is buried beneath snow or plants.

Typically, they hunt smaller animals such as rabbits, voles, rats, bats, and even lemmings.

They also prey upon and eat smaller birds, lizards, and insects.

Twice a day, after eating, they vomit up pellets made of bones and hair.

Barn owls commonly make their nests within caves, barns, and other quiet abandoned places.

During their lifetime, they may produce a maximum of three broods and hatch up to 18 white eggs in each clutch.

The nest is a cup-shaped arrangement of pellets that the birds have regurgitated and placed with their feet.

4. Barred Owl

Barred Owl

The stunning barred owl, with its contrasting brown and white stripes, is a year-round resident of Illinois.

These birds are notoriously sedentary, seldom venturing more than 10 miles from their birth location.

They share a habitat with the great horned owl, although they prefer to avoid the company of the latter.

Eggs, small birds, and even adult barred owls are fair game for great horned owls.

The presence of broad, continuous tracts of woodland is particularly attractive to barred owls, who choose areas with a variety of tree types and ages, particularly close to water.

On a walk, you could see them resting among the woods. However, they mostly engage in their foraging at night.

5. Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Snowy owls are listed as endangered within Illinois, however, they overwinter there and are often seen everywhere between October to May.

All-white or somewhat brown male Snowy Owls are among the most common appearance.

Unlike the mostly white males, female Snowy Owls possess dark brown to black spots on their sides, back, and wings.

Women also differ from males in that the striping on their tails is longer and more comprehensive.

The vivid yellow eyes of the Snowy Owl are matched by the extensive feathering of its feet and legs both for warmth and protection from the Arctic’s bitter climate.

Their tail bands aren’t as full as those on their wings, but the wingtip bands are thick and black.

Young birds are heavily barred in brown, with the exception of their cheeks, legs, feet, and underwings.

Snowy owls are arctic birds that breed in the far north of the planet, including Canada, and then migrate to the southern part of the country and the northern states of the United States, mostly in winter.

Snowy owls are typically found in the wide Arctic tundra, and they like to build their nests on high ground, such as ridges, hummocks, bluffs, or knolls from where they can survey their surroundings.

For this reason, many hunters choose to set up their equipment in wet, grassy places such as marshes and meadows.

If food is scarce in the north during the winter, they might migrate south.

They may go to locations with a shrubby landscape comparable to the Arctic, such as prairies, lakeshores, coastal dunes, and other similar places.

Unlike most owls, Snowy Owls remain diurnal and spend the Arctic summertime hunting during the day.

They engage in small-mammal hunting, with an annual intake of 1600 specimens.

In addition to ground prey, they can capture migratory birds in midair.

They feed on small mammals and birds like geese and ducks during the colder months.

Snowy owls make their homes in scraped, shallow hollows in the earth on one of the elevated parts of the tundra.

They maintain the nest for several years, choosing a windy ridge that will be cleared of snow.

Nothing insulates the birds’ nests. Within a two-day period, the female lay anything from 3 to 11 eggs.

Once the first egg is deposited, incubation may begin.

The female cuts up the food that both parents give the chicks so that it is easier for the chicks to eat.

6. Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl

In Illinois, Eastern Screech-Owls spend the whole year since they do not migrate.

Based on their geographic region, Eastern Screech Owls may appear redder or greyer in color.

These birds are small and stocky, having mottled coloration.

Their necks are really short, and their heads are enormous.

Their camouflage of striped and speckled colors makes them almost invisible against tree bark.

A robin is a good comparison for their little size; they are only a bit thicker.

The Eastern Screech-Owl is a non-migratory species that live in the eastern portion of the United States.

Eastern Screech-Owls are common in wooded areas and parkland, and you could even see one basking in the sun in a tree hollow on a chilly, bright day or by the eager mobbing of songbirds.

The presence of pellets is another tell.

Typically active at night, Eastern Screech-Owls are also active in the morning and twilight.

They target creatures as tiny as reptiles, mammals, birds, amphibians, and insects in their hunts.

They patiently wait for their prey to pass and attack from their perches.

They can make a wide variety of sounds, including hoots, calls, whistles, and screeches.

The most frequent calls are a shrill, falling whinny and a tremolo, or constantly bouncing, sound.

Eastern Screech-Owls seldom dig their own nests, hence they frequently take over those of other birds.

There is no nesting material added, and the birds simply lay their eggs on the floor of the nesting box or anywhere there happens to be a trash deposit.

Between two and six white eggs are laid by this bird.

7. Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk-Owl

Even though Northern Hawk Owls are relatively uncommon, the Illinois Ornithological Records Committee has included them on its list of species up for review.

Northern Hawk Owls possess yellow eyes and bills and a white face that’s also highlighted in black.

They have white patches on a brown background, which may be seen on their backs and wings.

Long and brown with whitish horizontal lines, their tails are striped horizontally across the body.

They have complete feathering on their feet and legs.

All the same, characteristics may be seen in juveniles, with the exception that they are paler and plumper.

Most populations of Northern Hawk Owls are permanent residents of northern Alaska and Canada.

Northern Hawk Owls inhabit open spruce and pine woods, as well as those that also include birch, poplar, willow, and larch.

Similarly, they prefer recently burnt woodland regions as a place to nest.

During the summer, Northern Hawk Owls rely heavily on voles as their primary mammalian prey.

They switch to feeding ptarmigan and grouse, and other ground-dwelling birds throughout the winter.

Northern Hawk Owls, in contrast to other owls, are active throughout the day and hunt for prey.

The Northern Hawk Owl often builds its nest on a snag that has been broken off at the base or in an old woodpecker hole that has since been abandoned.

Both parents will look for a suitable nesting site, and they are drawn to open woods with a sparse tree cover, preferably close to water.

While the male is off hunting, the female lays about 13 eggs, which she then incubates for roughly a month.

Parenting responsibilities change as the eggs hatch.

As a result, the female does the hunting while the male takes care of the young and the nest.

The male will continue to be present to supply food for his brood even after the young have left the nest and the mother has resumed her caring responsibilities.

8. Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl

Most sightings of Short-eared Owls within Illinois occur between the middle of October and the beginning of April, making them winter residents.

The ear tufts of a short-eared owl are so little that they are only really seen when the animal is in a protective posture, therefore, the name is rather fitting.

They are moderately sized, with a round, big, pale disc of a face that is framed in white.

Their pupils are a bright yellow, and they have black irises.

Their black, hooked bills are shorter than the rest of their bodies.

Their bodies and wings are mottled in shades of white and brown.

There are several dark brown streaks over the upper chest, while the belly and chest are white or buff in color.

There are dark brown bars on their tails as well.

Many short-eared owls spend the whole of the northern United States, despite the fact that they nest in Alaska and Canada and typically travel south for the winter.

With the exception of Antarctica and Australia, Short-eared Owls are found on every continent.

Since they nest and sleep on the ground, they prefer unoccupied regions like coastal grasses, broad prairies, wetlands, dunes, and tundra.

Short-eared Owls are diurnal, hunting most often at dawn and twilight when voles are often more active.

They hover low to the ground, listening for the sounds made by their vole and mouse prey.

They also consume birds, such as shorebirds and gulls, with their wings often removed before consumption.

They generate a series of constant hoots in addition to whines, screams, and barks but are otherwise rather silent.

Short-eared owls make their nests by scraping a bowl out of the ground and then filling it with feathers and grasses.

They hide amid tall grasses and low plants, and the female hatch 4 to 7 eggs (or more if food is plentiful) at a time.

Incubation lasts for about 4 to 5 weeks.

9. Long-Eared Owl

Long-eared Owl

Though uncommon, Long-eared Owls have been sighted across Illinois throughout the winter months of October through May.

The term “Long-eared Owl” comes from the distinctive tufts of hair that protrude from the ears of these medium-sized owls.

While similar to Great Horned Owls in appearance, these birds are much smaller and have more widely spaced ear tufts.

Their facial disc and the plumage that wrap over their beak evokes an astonishing look.

The top portions of these birds are speckled brown, grey, buff, and white.

Their bellies are cross-barred in shades of brown, orange, white, and black.

They have white bodies having dark brown bars on their tails.

Long-eared owls spend the summer in their breeding grounds across Canada and the northern United States and the winters in Mexico and the southern United States.

However, in other places, notably the interior western regions of the United States, people stay put all year.

In addition to broad grasslands, Long-eared Owls like thick stands of coniferous or deciduous forests for roosting.

This forest’s dense vegetation provides a natural disguise from would-be predators.

The long-eared owl’s primary food source is small animals, although it has been known to consume birds as well.

To locate their prey, they hover only a few feet over the ground and listen.

Long-eared owls usually make their nests out of sticks or exploit preexisting holes or hollows in trees.

The female may hatch anything from one to 10 eggs, which she will then tend for around 4 weeks.

Chicks are still fed by their parents for about 3 weeks before they begin to “branch out.”


In conclusion, the nine types of owls found in Illinois are a diverse and fascinating group of birds that are important members of the state’s wildlife.

From the small and agile eastern screech-owl to the majestic great horned owl, each species has its unique characteristics and adaptations that allow them to thrive in Illinois’ varied habitats.

Owls are not only beautiful and impressive birds but also play an essential role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem as predators.

By understanding and appreciating these creatures, we can help to protect them and ensure that they continue to live and thrive in Illinois.

So, the next time you’re out exploring Illinois’ natural beauty, keep an eye out for these amazing birds and take a moment to appreciate their remarkable abilities.


What is the smallest type of owl found in Illinois?

The eastern screech-owl is the smallest type of owl found in Illinois, measuring only 6-10 inches in length.

What is the largest type of owl found in Illinois?

The great horned owl is the largest type of owl found in Illinois, measuring up to 25 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 5 feet.

What do owls eat in Illinois?

Owls in Illinois eat a variety of prey, including rodents, birds, insects, and even fish. Different species of owls have different prey preferences, depending on their size and habitat.

When is the best time to see owls in Illinois?

Owls are nocturnal animals and are most active at night. The best time to see owls in Illinois is during the winter months when the leaves have fallen from the trees, making it easier to spot them.

Are owls endangered in Illinois?

Some species of owls, such as the barn owl, are considered endangered in Illinois due to habitat loss and other threats. However, many species, such as the great horned owl and barred owl, are common throughout the state.

Where is the best place to see owls in Illinois?

Owls can be found throughout Illinois in a variety of habitats, including forests, wetlands, and prairies. Some popular spots for owl watching in Illinois include Starved Rock State Park, Matthiessen State Park, and the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway. However, it is important to respect the birds’ habitats and observe them from a safe distance.

Last Updated on May 12, 2023 by Lily Aldrin

About Lily Aldrin

I am Lily Aldrin. I attended Cornell University, where I obtained my degree to become an Ornithologist so I could pursue my love of these magnificent creatures in and out of their natural habitats.

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