9 Types of Owls in Illinois (with Pictures)

Last Updated on November 30, 2022 by Lily Aldrin

On a calm, starry night with no wind, certain owls may occasionally be heard calling throughout the night.

Owls generally call around dawn and twilight. Due to their territorial nature, they utilize their cries to caution others to keep away from their territory.

Like the great horned owl, the mythical bird makes the well-known hooting sound.

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

This large owl may be found in practically all of North America and a large portion of South America.

Often killing both prey and predator, this powerful and aggressive hunter—sometimes called a “tiger owl”—takes a variety of prey, including bunnies, hawks, scorpions, and even skunks.

It will even fight porcupines. 

During the middle of winter, Great Horned Owls may be heard hooting loudly throughout the forest. They start building their nests relatively early in the north.

Mostly hunts during the night, occasionally at dusk. Swoops down to seize food in its talons after watching from a high perch.

Possesses excellent hearing and nighttime vision. 


In the winter, a hunter in the north may store uneaten game until returning to defrost the frozen body.

A wide range, mostly animals and birds. In most places, the majority of food is composed of mammals.

Takes a lot of rats, mice, and rabbits, as well as ground squirrels, opossums, and skunks, among many other animals. 

Eats certain birds, including smaller owls, hawks, and birds up to the size of geese. Eats scorpions, insects, frogs, snakes, lizards, and, very infrequently, fish.

In the north, nesting may start quite early (late winter), presumably to provide the young enough time to master hunting skills before the next winter. 

The Male conducts a demonstration fly during courting and also feeds the female.


This enormous bird typically utilizes the former nest of another large bird, such as a hawk, eagle, crow, or heron.

The nest is typically 20 to 60 feet above the ground, although it may also be found in caves, on cliff ledges, and in broken-off tree stumps.

2. Northern Saw Whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Sometimes this round-headed tiny gnome is perched there, sitting quietly as though to escape detection, while birders prowl through pine woods in the dead of winter.

This owl excels at avoiding observation; in many locations where it is found, it goes unnoticed. 

Males sing a repetitive tooting song late at night during the mating season that might go for hours without a break.

This song, which settlers compared to the sound of a saw being sharpened on a whetstone, gave rise to the bird’s name.

Hunts primarily by hovering on low ledges and pouncing on prey at night. Both hearing and sight are used to locate its prey.


Small rodents predominate. Mostly consumes deer mice, particularly those that reside in forests, but also consumes a lot of voles. 

Additionally, consumes juvenile squirrels, shrews, other mice, small birds, huge insects, and occasionally other mice.

On the Haida Gwaii islands in British Columbia, the local race may consume crabs and insects in the intertidal zone.

During the early stages of mating season, males sing nonstop at night to protect their territory and entice females. Usually 15 to 60 feet above the ground, the nesting location is in a tree hollow.

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In particular, flickers’ and Pileated Woodpeckers’ burrows are frequently used by abandoned woodpeckers. Fake nest boxes will also be used.

3. Barn Owl

Barn Owl

This bird has inspired a lot of superstition due to its eerie appearance, wheezing shrieks, and propensity to perch in sites like church bell towers.

However, because it mostly preys on mice and rats, finding one in a farmer’s barn is really a positive omen. 

The Barn Owl bobs its face and swings back and forth, scanning the area where the intruder has been discovered throughout the day.

It frequently calls as it soars high above farms or marshes at night. One of the terrestrial birds with the greatest geographic distribution, occurring on five continents and several islands.

Hunts mostly at night and seldom during the day. Flies low over wide terrain when hunting and observing and occasionally descends from a perch. Has good vision.


Primarily rodents and voles are its main food source, although it also consumes other animals such as baby rabbits, shrews, tiny rats, and mice.

Consumes just a very small amount of fish, frogs, insects, birds, and lizards.

Males feed females while performing show flights during courting, involving loud wing claps.


Uses cavities inside caves and vacuous trees, as well as several man-made locations such as lofts in barns, steeples of churches, vacant homes, dry wells, and fissures beneath bridges. 

When there are no suitable cavities, they may dig holes in soil banks. Debris will be arranged into a rudimentary depression, but no true nest will be formed.

4. Barred Owl

Barred Owl

In southern marshes, where members of a couple frequently call back and forth to one another, the baritone voice shrieking of the Barred Owl is a distinctive sound.

The bird will call and even go on the hunt during the day, though it is primarily active at night. 

The Barred Owl is noticeably less aggressive than the Great Horned Owl while being just somewhat smaller. Because of competition from its hardy relative, the Barred Owl may be kept out of more open woodlands.

Hunts during dawn and dusk, possibly more so at night. Prey is sought after by the animal by perching and flying low through the forest. 


The animal may loiter before lowering to grab the prey. Primarily tiny animals mostly eat mice and other tiny rodents, but it also consumes squirrels, rabbits, opossums, shrews, and other small animals.

In addition, it consumes some insects, different songbirds, frogs, salamanders, snakes, and lizards. Fish, crayfish, and other aquatic animals are acceptable.

Male and female birds call while perched near one another, bobble and bow their heads, and raise their wings during courtship. When courting, the Male may feed the Female.

Individuals in a couple frequently call in pairs. 

A huge natural tree hollow, a broken-off snag, an old eagle, crow, or squirrel nest, or another location, serve as potential nesting sites.

Rarely builds nests on the ground. Frequently utilizes an old Ruby Hawk nest in the east; the hawk and the owl may share the nest on alternating years.

5. Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

An enormous, strong owl that lives in the high Arctic tundra and is camouflage-colored during the colder months.

It may be nocturnal throughout the summer, congregating and breeding in areas with large concentrations of the lemming-like tiny rodents.


Other times, it feeds on a range of prey, including large birds like geese.

When Snowy Owls stay in cities and towns during certain winters, it always creates a stir and grabs media attention. Frequently goes on hunts during the day.

Usually hunts by keeping watch from a perch for potential prey, chasing after it in brisk flight, and seizing prey in talons. 

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Occasionally searches for prey by actually flying or by lingering and keeping an eye on the ground. May use sound or sight to find prey.

Lemmings are among a variety of animals and birds that are included. When lemmings are there, they may rely nearly entirely on them for food in the Arctic.

Otherwise, it consumes a wide range of prey. Takes animals such as ground squirrels, rabbits, hares, and voles. 

May eat heavily on birds in coastal locations, such as ducks, swans, grebes, murrelets, and even songbirds.

Fish and carrion may also be eaten. In certain Arctic locales, breeding may occur primarily in years with an abundance of lemmings, with no breeding occurring in years with a dearth of lemmings.

In the early spring, the male owl protects its territory by hooting loudly.

Males typically hold lemmings in their bills during courting flights, and when they land close to females, they lean forward and partially raise their wings.


Selects an elevated location, always with high visibility on extremely open tundra, such as a hummock in low-lying places or the top of a mound or ridge in a hilly area.

The site may be utilized for a number of years. Nest is an unlined, simple dip in the tundra.

6. Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl

This robin-sized is widespread across the eastern United States, particularly in suburban neighborhoods and municipal parks where many people are unaware that an owl lives nearby.

At dusk, the owl starts to move around after spending the day resting in holes or dense covers.

Despite their title, screech owls do not actually shriek; instead, they make mild trills and whinnies as their sound.

Hunts throughout the night and at dusk. Mostly hunts by keeping watch from such a ledge and then pouncing to capture prey on the ground or in vegetation.


Additionally captures airborne flying insects. Can seek prey both visually and audibly. Primarily tiny rodents and huge insects. 

Large variety in the diet. Consumes a lot of beetles, moths, crickets, and other big insects. Catches shrews, bats, mice, and other vermin, as well as several tiny songbirds, reptiles, frogs, beetles, earthworms, crayfish, and a variety of other small animals. Many little fish are caught by some.

Males often bow, raise their wings, and click their beaks during courtship. The Female is fed by the Male. Mating pairs call in duets while grooming one another’s feathers.

The location of the nest is a tree cavity, which may include organic hollows and old woodpecker burrows.

Artificial nest boxes will also be used. Ordinarily 10–30 feet above the ground, but up to 80 feet.

7. Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk-Owl

This long-tailed owl is sitting erect at the summit of a spruce in the northern woodland, and a lucky viewer could notice it there.

It regularly hunts during the day and resembles a hawk in both look and activity. 

It swings up suddenly to land on the highest twigs as it travels quickly and low through trees.

The sporadic Hawk Owl that makes its way to the northeastern states in wintertime may stay there for weeks, drawing birders from all around.

Majority of the time, throughout the day or at sunrise and night. Searches for prey from such a prominent, elevated perch, frequently moving to different perches, and when prey is seen, strikes in a swift flight.

When hunting, one may hover. Birds in the sky are occasionally caught.


Primarily rodents eat largely voles and mice, as well as a few tiny squirrels, weasels, and shrews, especially in the summer.

Also consumes tiny birds, particularly in the winter. May occasionally take tiny fish, frogs, or insects.

Members of a mated couple sing duets and occasionally bow rigidly. Males may feed the Female and keep uneaten food close to the nest.

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Nesting locations might include enormous tree cavities, the broken tops of stumps, or abandoned nesting of other birds like crows or hawks.

Artificial nest boxes may be used throughout northern Europe. Typically 10 to 40 feet above the ground.

8. Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl

The Short-ear owl inhabits open areas like prairies and wetlands and is easier to spot than other owls. It is frequently active during the day, especially at night.

It resembles a huge moth as it hunts, parachuting down over the fields with buoyant, flappy wing beats. 

In addition to its distribution in North America, it also breeds in South America, Eurasia, and several marine islands, such as Hawaii.

Hunts often hover before descending on prey while flying low above the ground. Reportedly uses both sight and hearing to hunt prey.


Even though they may hunt during the day, particularly in the far north, they are most active around dawn and dusk.

Primarily rodents mostly consume voles but also lemmings, deer mice, and pocket mice. Eats gophers, shrews, rabbits, and occasionally bats and muskrats. Consumes birds, especially along the seaside.

In the course of courting, the Male spirals upward hover while uttering a series of brief, quick hoots and then dives while slapping its wings vigorously beneath its body.

Particularly in swampy areas, the nest location is on dry land and frequently on a high hummock or ridge. Usually behind a bush or in a patch of thick grass.

Uncommonly above ground. A hollow on the ground is lined by grass and feathers and serves as the Female’s nest.

9. Long-Eared Owl

Long-eared Owl

Although common, this moderate owl is not well-known in North America.

It may go unnoticed in some regions where it nests since it tends to call less frequently or loudly than most of our other owls.

In forests of conifers, willows, mesquite, or other trees, groups of a dozen or more birds may occasionally be seen roosting together in the winter.

Hunts primarily at night, occasionally before dawn, particularly while nursing young. Flies back and forwards some feet above the ground as it scavenges over meadows or in open woodlands.

Uses sound or sight to find its prey, then sneaks down to seize it with its talons.


Primarily tiny animals typically consume a lot of the usual local rodents. Voles, reindeer mice, marsupial rats, pocket gators, etc. may predominate depending on the location.

Other tiny animals they have been known to consume include small birds, stoats, bats, lizards, and snakes.


Early in the mating season, the Male conducts an aerial show, gliding, and wing-clapping noisily below the body while flying in rhythmic patterns around the nesting region.

The nesting location is often in a tree, 4–30 feet above the ground, generally at or around mid-level; on rare occasions, it may also be in a huge cactus or on a cliff ledge.

No nest is created; instead, it utilizes a nest that has been abandoned by other birds, including crows, ravens, magpies, and different hawks.


Overall, winter is a fantastic time to see some of the great owl species.

The winter season is a wonderful time to start if you’ve always wand thing to observe an owl, he advised.

We encounter them slightly more frequently now that it is becoming darker earlier since our actions and their active times are converging.

This means that finding one doesn’t need a lot of late nights.


What is the largest owl in Illinois?

Great horned owls are the largest owls found in Illinois.

Where do owls live during the day?

Owls usually rest in dense evergreens during the daytime.

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.