10 Types of Owls in North Carolina (NC)

There are owls in every region of North Carolina’s incredible ecosystem, from the Southern Appalachians to the Atlantic coast.

These nocturnal prey birds play important roles within the state’s ecosystems as predators of tiny to mid-sized animals.

Their huge, bold eyes, beautiful claws, and ghostly, quiet flight astound human onlookers. Many species across North Carolina are prolific, widespread, and easy to see; others are difficult to notice or uncommon.

In this article, we’ll give you a quick intro to all the owls across North Carolina, so let’s get started!

Boreal OwlBoreal Owl
Barn OwlBarn Owl
Long-Eared OwlLong-Eared Owl
Barred OwlBarred Owl
Eastern Screech OwlEastern Screech Owl
Northern Saw-whet OwlNorthern Saw-whet Owl
Short-Eared OwlShort-Eared Owl
Burrowing OwlBurrowing Owl
Great Horned OwlGreat Horned Owl
Snowy OwlSnowy Owl

Types of Owls in North Carolina

1. Boreal Owl

Boreal Owl

The report of owl species does not include the boreal owl on its own official list of frequent owl species; nevertheless, the report does include the boreal owl.

According to the North Carolina Bird Records Committee, there have been many sighting reports of the bird within the state, which indicates that it will be added to the collection in the very near future.

The irrational inhabitant of the state is distinguished by possessing a short and stocky body in comparison to its comparatively huge head. The owl is normally grey in appearance, and it has a face disc that is covered with white spots.

Habitat & Food

Boreal owls are distinguished by their wide golden eyes and a strong preference for dwelling in densely wooded regions. In general, they consume smaller birds, insects, and smaller animals, particularly rodents, although they will also consume small mammals.

2. Barn Owl

Barn Owl

The next owl on our list is one that is not only widespread but also quite frequent across North Carolina state.

The barn owl is not only quite prevalent, but it is also simple to recognize in comparison to other types of owls that are found in the region since it has a distinct appearance from the others.

These owls are around the size of a typical human adult and have large, curved wings that enable them to fly completely silently.

This is particularly effective when paired with their smooth, rounded heads, which are devoid of ear tufts.


Barn owls, also known as “ghost owls” by some, prefer to make their nests in open locations, such as churches and barns, particularly those that are abandoned or are seldom disturbed during the night. This is why their name indicates that they prefer these types of environments.

The primarily nocturnal bird may be observed hunting across open areas, marshlands, grasslands, or even within agricultural fields, in which it can feast on rodents such as mice, voles, shrews, and even tiny rabbits. The bird might be seen hunting throughout open areas, grasslands, marshlands, or even within agricultural fields.

The face of this bird is easily distinguishable from others of its kind. Because barn owls possess a facial disc in the form of a heart, a little peak, a long snout, and extremely dark eyes, many people sometimes refer to them as “monkey-faced owls.” Barn owls are found in North America.

The remainder of an owl’s body is frequently a shade that ranges from light brown to white, but they can sometimes be seen in a variety of other pastel color combinations, such as light grey and buff.

3. Long-Eared Owl

Long-eared Owl

When compared to the other owls on the list, the long-eared owl has a size that is regarded to be average. The American version may be recognized by its highly unique yellow face discs and the white pattern that appears like an “X” between its eyes. Both of these characteristics are found only in the American type.

In addition to this, they are much thinner than most other long-eared owls found across the globe, and they possess a distinctive orange face disc that makes it quite simple to recognize them.

These owls have wide golden eyes, but they are normally shut during the day since they are nocturnal and prefer to sleep during the day. During the night, these owls emit a range of cries and hunt tiny creatures in wide areas.

The prey they seek includes things like voles, lizards, mice, squirrels, bats, and many more.

4. Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Despite the fact that it isn’t as prevalent as the barn owl or the great horned owl, the barred owl may still be found across North Carolina in good numbers.

It is believed that the bird is the result of a spontaneous merging of the characteristics of these two owls. For instance, similar to the great horned owl, this bird has a strongly speckled appearance. In contrast to the barn owl, this species has black eyes, heart-shaped facial discs having modest peaks, and a distinct lack of ear tufts.

You may locate this species of owl at any time of the year since it is indigenous to the eastern part of North America, which includes the state of North Carolina.

They are referred to as barred or striped owls because the extensive mottling on their feathers gives the appearance of horizontal stripes when seen from a distance. These owls possess patterns on their underparts as well, but instead of being horizontal, the stripes are more like vertical lines.

There are many subspecies of this bird, but residents of North Carolina are often likely to encounter the brown variety. During the day, they like to keep to themselves, but as night falls, they become rather busy.

They are known for their distinctive hooting call and like to make their home in dense coniferous woods.

5. Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl

In terms of appearance, the eastern screech owl is generally considered to be among the most iconic owls. This is because eastern scream owls are often depicted in culture and art as having the typical appearance of owls.

Both the rufous and the grey kind of owl can often be located in the state. The owl is recognized for living in two separate variations, which are the rufous and the grey.

The richly mottled feathers of the bird provide great camouflage, allowing it to conceal itself from both its prey and its potential predators.

They are purely nocturnal raptors; however, they aren’t bothered by the presence of people around residential areas as long as they keep a low profile during the day.

The ear tufts of the tiny owls are disproportionately huge in their body size. You ought to be aware, however, that these are just appearances since the animals’ ears are really placed behind these tufts.

They instead disperse these tufts once they are close to one another in order to frighten other rivals.

6. Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl

The Northern saw-whet owl is a very little owl and is among the tiniest across North America, as well as the Carolinas. In fact, a mature Northern saw-whet owl may be as tiny as the chicks of many other species of the owl!

Since this owl is endemic to the area, it may often be seen in large numbers, particularly in the northern parts of the territory. When compared to other types of owls, this particular species is rather evasive, which makes it challenging to find, particularly when taking into account the fact that they are quite large.

The most effective technique to locate them is to listen for a notably loud tooting sound; this is in spite of the fact that they are quite a few.

In addition to having a petite physique, they are easily identifiable by the white “V” that is located over their eyebrows and by the brownish hue that is distributed all over their body.

Mice and some other smaller animals make up the majority of the diet of northern saw-whet owls.

7. Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl

Both the short-eared owl and the long-eared owl have almost the same pattern of mottling throughout their bodies, which enables them to conceal themselves while resting on the limbs and twigs of trees. This makes it possible for the short-eared owl to be mistaken for the long-eared owl, and that is why they are often confused with one another.

The anatomy of the skull is the sole significant factor that differentiates these two species of owls; the owls with tiny ears have very few ear tufts, which might or might not be visible.

You may also recognize this owl by the black tones that encircle the face disc of the owl, which is another trait that might assist you in doing so.


These owls are typically more engaged from late afternoon until dusk, and they prefer to congregate in areas sparsely vegetated. This enables them to attack small birds and mammals, as they prefer to fly low and jump on their prey upwards.

In general, these birds can be found in areas where there is little vegetation.

8. Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

The burrowing owl is an exception to the rule regarding the nocturnal behavior of owls since it is more engaged during the day rather than at night. However, this is the case for most species of owls.

These owls are quite a tiny side compared to other owls that have been discussed; in fact, they are smaller than the typical crow found in the United States. The bird has long, featherless legs and a tail that is very small.

It also has very few feathers covering its body.

The skulls of burrowing owls are similarly completely smooth and lack ear tufts. In general, their bodies are mottled with a brown that ranges from light to dark brown, and their eyes are a deep yellow.

These raptors, similar to the snowy owl, prefer to spend the majority of their time near the surface and fly at a low altitude most of the time.

Habitat & Food

Because of this, grasslands and other regions with scattered bushes and low vegetation offer excellent places for predators to conceal themselves and ambush their victims.

Even though grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles make up the majority of the birds’ diet, particularly during the warmer months, these birds are capable of hunting other animals, such as voles and squirrels, if their paths happen to intersect.

9. Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

To start things off, let’s have a look at one of the most well-known types of owls that can be found over the whole of North America, not just in North Carolina.

In point of fact, the great horned owl is tied for first place, with the barn owl being the most frequent species of owl found in the state.

Due to the fact that the great horned owl is not a migratory bird, you will have the opportunity to see this magnificent creature at any time of the year.

Because of the fact that this bird’s appearance and coloration patterns are very comparable to those of ordinary tigers, another name for it is the “tiger owl.” The adult owl, for example, has a face that ranges in the shade from orange to dark red and is encircled by a tiny patch of white coloring all around the neck, in addition to a round black band.

In fact, the bird possesses two quite prominent ear tufts that, when seen from afar, resemble horns, which is how the raptor received its name.


The remainder of the owl’s body is normally speckled and ranges from brown to grey; however, the type that is more frequent across North Carolina is light grey, which allows it to mix in readily with its surroundings when perching on tree branches. This allows the owl to survive in harsher environments.

The bird is mostly active at night and prefers to hunt in open regions where it has a better chance of capturing small rodents like mice and squirrels.

In spite of this, during the course of its existence, this owl has evolved to live in close proximity to people. As a result, it is occasionally seen in parkland, residential areas, and woods that are nearby.

10. Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

The snowy owl is native to the northern parts of the planet, but it is not uncommon to see one in the Carolinas. This is because the climate there is ideal for the development of young birds of this species.

There is a discernible variation in the physical characteristics of the males and females of this breed of owl, in contrast to the species that were stated before. For example, mature males are often totally white or possess very few brown dots distributed throughout their wings. Females tend to have more brown patches.

As the owl ages, these markings often become less visible to the naked eye. Females, in contrast, are white like males but frequently have distinct barring all over their backs and wings.

It is quite hard to get the owl confused with another species since its eyes are a brilliant shade of yellow and have a dramatic contrast that renders them visible even from a distance. This applies to both male and female owls.

In most cases, snowy owls will want to reside in open places that have snowy terrain. In point of fact, you will have the greatest chance of finding one if you search close to the ground.

They also prefer to fly and perch close to the ground (often adjacent to lakes) in order to search for their food, which could be anything from ducks and tiny seabirds to smaller animals like hares and lemmings. Their diet also comprises fish and small birds.

Check out this article for information on the Types of Woodpeckers in North Carolina and the Types of Owls in New York.


Having said all of that, here is the last section of our article on the incredible diversity of owls that can be found across North Carolina.

As can be seen, the state of North Carolina is home to a great number of different species of owls, which makes it a fantastic destination for bird watchers who have a particular interest in owls.

We hope you found our checklist on the owls of North Carolina to be interesting and helpful.


Which species of owls may be found in North Carolina?

The Great Horned Owl is the state bird of North Carolina and is the biggest species of owl in the state. It may be found in wooded settings all around the state, even in suburban areas.

The barred owl is another species that may be spotted throughout the state, although it is more common in wet forests, floodplains, and marshes. The eagle owl (Bubo bubo), which is native to Eurasia, is the great horned owl’s sole surviving cousin.

What other birds may be confused for owls?

The Tawny Frogmouth is a specialist in camouflage, and if it is not confused with an owl, it may readily be deceived with a tree limb! Tawny Frogmouths may reach lengths of up to 53 centimeters in males and 34 centimeters in females, and they can weigh approximately 680 grams.

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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