8 Different Species of Owls in Missouri

Missouri is renowned for its museums, barbeques, and botanical gardens, and it is rich in mystery and history.

However, the Show-Me State isn’t just about big structures and historical places; because of its diversified topography and prime location, it’s home to over 430 bird species.

There are eight owls among them, such as the renowned Great Horned Owl and the uncommon Snowy Owl.

We’ve included all 8 Missouri owls in this post, including individual traits and where and when to look for them.

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

Different Species of Owls in Missouri

1. Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owls are one of the most recognizable owls not just in North America but worldwide. They’re classic “go-to” owls in TV programs, movies, and kids’ literature, with their all-knowing eyes and powerful hoots.

Great Horned Owls are year-round inhabitants across Missouri. They prefer secondary-growth woods and deciduous forests, although they may also be found in suburban and urban settings like playgrounds and towns.

Great Horned Owls possess horn-like ear tufts upon their forehead, as the name implies. Their bodies are mottled gray and brown, reddish-brown cheeks, with huge, cat-like yellow eyes, and a distinctive white spot on their necks.

Scientific name Bubo virginianus
Weight 50 oz
Wingspan 55.5 in
Length 18 to 26 in
Lifespan 28 years (oldest recorded); 10 to 15 years (wild)

These clever owls are among the most dangerous predators on the planet. They are not choosy eaters and will devour everything their talons can get their hands on.

In addition, they are the only documented bird of prey that kills and feeds skunks on a routine basis, unaffected by their self-defense system.

Although Great Horned Owls may hunt food considerably bigger than themselves, they prefer small animals, rodents, and amphibians.

They prefer opossums, rabbits, rats, and squirrels, although they will eat frogs, snakes, and scorpions as well.

They consume seafood as well, but when considered necessary.

2. Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owls are one of Missouri’s most endangered owls. They are not always extremely covert, roosting together within deep pine trees, but they often rarely travel the region between mid-November to mid-April.

Their camouflage coloring of brown, black, and buff makes them much more difficult to see.

Lengthy-eared Owls, so called because of their enormous ear tufts, are by far the most melodious among owls. About 200 various noises are produced by them, such as whistles, hoots, cat-like meows, screeches, and even barks.

Male Long-eared Owls’ roaring cries may be audible a couple of miles away, making them among the most intriguing owl species to explore.

Long-eared Owls possess facial discs that seem to be light ochre-tawny with a blackish border. Their “eyebrows” are small and pale, with yellowish-orange eyes.

Scientific name Asio otus
Wingspan 35 to 40 in
Weight 8 to 9 oz
Length 13.5 to 15.7 in
Lifespan 27 years (oldest recorded), 10 to 11 years (wild)

Some people confuse Long-eared Owls with Great Horned Owls, despite the fact that they appear a little similar.

For one thing, Long-eared Owls appear substantially smaller than Great Horned Owls, giving rise to the unofficial moniker “Lesser Horned Owls.” They’re also thinner and much more delicate in appearance.

Like other owls, Long-eared Owls, feed on local rodents. Voles, kangaroo rats, pocket gophers, and deer mice are examples. They also consume lizards, snakes, bats, tiny birds as well as other small animals on occasion.

3. Short-eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl

Short-eared Owls, likewise Long-eared Owls, are known for their almost non-existent ear tufts. If they are frightened or seek to threaten a species, their ear tufts normally rest flat atop their heads.

The scientific name flammeus refers to the short-eared owl’s flame-colored feathers of red, brown, and white. They possess pale, yellow eyes with black rims, disc-shaped faces, and a buff spot on the outside of the wings.

Although they may be spotted throughout the year in northern Missouri, Short-eared Owls remain listed as a Bird of Conservation Concern in the state.

Their populations have been progressively dropping over the decades, owing mostly to environmental fragmentation and loss.

Scientific Name Asio flammeus
Wingspan 33.5 to 40.5 in
Weight 7.3 to 16.8 oz
Length 12 to 18 in
Lifespan 12 years (oldest recorded), 4 to 5 years (wild)

Short-eared Owls may be found in Missouri’s Glaciated Plains, Osage Plains, and Mississippi Lowlands. With any chance, you’ll come upon a roost of up to 20 Short-eared Owls in some kind of a thicket, ravine, or atop enormous hay bales.

They may also be found roosting in a dry, grassy river.

Short-eared Owls are diurnal, which means they hunt throughout the day rather than at night.

But their distinction does not stop there. Only one owl that makes the nest on the land is female Short-eared Owls.

They can nest on mines that have been recovered and replanted, making them among the few species that gain from strip mining.

Short-eared Owls make a range of hissing noises, hoots, squeaks, and barks (like a small dog). They are normally quiet, rendering them harder to identify.

4. Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Barn Owls can be seen throughout the year in Missouri, where they live in chimneys, church steeples, abandoned barns, and other man-made buildings.

Barn Owls are the rarest of the six owl species which dwell in Missouri all year.

They are one among the Species of Conservation Concern, like Short-eared Owls, and are safeguarded under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is therefore prohibited to damage, touch, or disturb these owls or their nests.

Unfortunately, even with the legislation in place, Barn Owl numbers in the state still fallen owing to farming practices, habitat degradation, and illegal shooting—possibly because some people believe they are bad omens.

Scientific name Tyto alba
Wingspan 39.5 to 49.5 in
Weight 14 to 24.7 oz
Length 12.5 to 15.9 in
Lifespan 15.4 years (oldest recorded), 2 to 4 years (wild)

Barn Owls are among the world’s most unusual wildlife. They are either lovely or unnerving, based on who you ask. Having their dark, forward-facing eyes, enigmatically colored feathers, and pale heart-shaped faces, they get a “ghostly” look.

They emerge as a flash of white once darkness falls. They are a genuine nocturnal species, which means they exclusively hunt during nighttime.

Because they are excellent at hunting rodents, farmers and householders frequently set up nesting boxes to attract them to hunt on their land.

5. Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Saw-whet of the North Owls spend the winter throughout northern Missouri and dwell all year in the remainder of the region.

Northern Saw-whet Owls are still the tiniest owls across Missouri and much of Northern America, reaching their maximum height of 8.5 in. Their heads seem to be overly enormous for their bodies, taking up one-third of their total size.

Their eyes are golden and large, their forehead is brown with white streaks, and their feathers are mottled brown.

Saw-whet of the North Owls are not always little, but also elusive. Because of their natural coloration, they may blend in with trees and plants.

Scientific name Aegolius acadicus
Wingspan 16 to 22 in
Length 6 to 8.5 in
Weight 2 to 5.5 oz
Lifespan 9 years (oldest recorded), 7 years (wild)

Northern Saw-whet Owls spend days when hiding in thick evergreens, nestled amid vines, or within tree holes that once belonged to Pileated Woodpeckers.

They’d prowl across wide terrain at nighttime for bats, mice, shrews, insects, and small birds.

These owls produce very little sound, but whenever they do, it appears like a saw getting sharpened on a sharpener, hence their name.

It would be terrifying if it wasn’t coming from small owls with big heads, fluffy bodies, and heart-shaped faces.

6. Eastern Screech-Owl

Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech-Owls remain year-round residents throughout Missouri, although they are extremely elusive that they will be seldom spotted. They blend in seamlessly with the trees and bushes because of their outstanding camouflage.

Eastern Screech-Owls, similar to Northern Saw-whet Owls, is relatively modest in size. They’re a little larger than adult-sized Mockingbirds and fit comfortably in the middle of your palm.

Eastern Screech-Owls have golden eyes, stocky bodies, no necks, and conspicuous ear tufts which are sometimes dropped.

They come in three color variations: gray, brown, and red. The state’s red variant is the least prevalent, whereas the brown variant is the most frequent.

They are similar in looks to Western Screech-Owls but seem to be greater in size.

Scientific name Megascops asio
Weight 5 to 5.60 oz
Wingspan 19 to 25 in
Length 6 to 10 in
Lifespan 14 years (oldest recorded), 8 to 10 years (wild)

Unlike their name, Eastern Screech-Owls’ sounds are seldom characterized as “screech.” Rather, they make a voice quivering, whistled sound with increasing pitch or a monotonous trill, which they generally sing with their partner.

Because they are so little, they can only eat smaller prey. Insects like moths, grasshoppers, beetles, and also rodents, including moles, shrews, and mice, fall within this category.

They occasionally consume fish, small birds, and frogs.

7. Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owls are uncommon winter migrants into Missouri. Even during the winter weather of 2011 to 2012 and 2017 to 2018, they came in “notable quantities.”

They came to Missouri in 2021, although in tiny groups. The dramatic fall of lemmings causes population peaks every 4 years.

These stunning owls are mostly white in appearance, with large golden eyes and spherical heads devoid of tufts. They’re as big as, if not bigger than, Great Horned Owls, earning them the moniker “Great White Owls.”

They are also known as “Arctic Owls” since they inhabit primarily the Arctic tundra and the extreme northern areas surrounding the North Pole.

Scientific name Bubo scandiacus
Weight 40 to 70 oz
Wingspan 48 to 59 in
Length 21 to 25.5 in
Lifespan 23 years (oldest recorded), 10 (wild)

Snowy Owls are one of the few diurnal owl varieties. Although they usually hunted at night, they would occasionally seek prey during the day.

If you are fortunate enough to see Snowy Owls in Missouri, stay your range. When protecting their area, Snowy Owls may be hostile.

They’ve even been called “Alaska’s Deadliest” via National Geographic because they’ve been found to hunt Arctic Wolves that go too near.

8. Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Another year-round inhabitant of Missouri seems to be the Barred Owl. They are commonly found in big evergreen and deciduous forests, and also forested marshes, woods, and wooded stream bottoms across the state.

These nocturnal birds get a “typical” owl appearance, tuftless round heads, with black eyes, orange beaks, and disk-shaped cheeks. They are known for distinctive barred feathers, which vary from horizontal lines of light brown and dark brown.

They are Missouri’s sole brown-streaked, dark-eyed owl, having Barn Owls will be the only other dark-eyed species.

The Barred Owl is most known for its distinctive “Who feeds for you?” “Who serves for you all?” inquires. It’s so well-known that it’s virtually always utilized in horror films and TV shows.

Scientific name Strix varia
Weight 26 to 30 oz
Wingspan 35 to 50 in
Length 15 to 25 in
Lifespan 24 years (oldest recorded), 8 years (wild)

Their sound is ventriloquial, which makes it difficult to find. This method puzzles prey while simultaneously protecting Barred Owls from predators.

Since they are rather big, predators seldom affect Barred Owls. They do, however, have a strained relationship with Great Horned Owls.

Great Horned Owls might frequently “take” their nesting sites and devour their eggs and young. To escape the confrontation, Barred Owls might fly away rather than battle them.

However, because they do not migrate, they will not travel more than 6 miles from their native nesting site.


We are glad you liked our information on the 8 most frequent owl species in Missouri!

Despite belonging to the same family tree, every one of the owls mentioned above possesses features that set them apart.

Owls, particularly Great Horned Owls and Barn Owls, play a prominent part in pest and rodent management, regardless of breed.

Consider constructing nesting boxes in appropriate ecosystems near your home if you wish to invite an owl to your garden. Who knows, perhaps you’ll attract a mating couple or two!


What would be Missouri's most frequent owl?

The most prevalent species in Missouri include great-horned owls, screech owls, and barred owls, which are observable all year. The barn owl also is a full citizen, however, they are more uncommon than the other 3 as just a bird of conservation concern throughout Missouri.

Last Updated on March 22, 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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