7 Types of Owls in Virginia

The wide state of Virginia, from the Appalachian Mountains to the seashore, provides a range of settings that sustain a plethora of bird species.

The Shenandoah National Park, Kiptopeke State Park, and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge are popular destinations.

There are also several nature paths, such as the country’s first state-wide wildlife and birding route. This document will look at the different species of owls in Virginia.

Virginia is home to different owl species. Owls exist in a range of environments. They are nocturnal raptors that focus on hunting mostly at night and have superb night vision, stealth, and hearing.

Despite their association with nocturnal activity, certain subspecies are active throughout the day, whereas others might hunt diurnally depending upon the season.

Furthermore, several owls are crepuscular, which means they are active during dawn and twilight.

Owls are classified into two families: Tytonidae (barn owls) and Strigidae (true owls).

If you want to see these intriguing creatures, you must first learn where to seek them, what they look like, and also what they consume.

Whether you’re visiting Richmond or living on a little farm situated in the middle of nowhere, this article can assist you in identifying all 7 distinct species of owls that inhabit Virginia.

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

Types of Owls in Virginia

1. Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

The great horned owl is well-known due to its presence in films such as the Harry Potter series as well as its distinctive hoot.

These enormous owls may weigh a maximum of 5.5 pounds. They contain large talons and are excellent flyers, allowing them to take down formidable prey such as falcons and ospreys.

It needs 27 lbs of power to pull its claws apart after they’ve clenched around anything.

These birds may be found across North America (Mexico to Alaska).

It is among the most frequent owls living across mountains, plains, woodlands, and deserts.

The great horned owl feels as at peace within Virginia’s metropolis as it is in its wilderness areas and suburbs.

All of this implies that you get a strong probability of spotting one. It may be found all across Virginia.

Looking for the massive bird having golden eyes and lengthy hair tufts around its ears. They might be gray or cinnamon with a creamy or light gray body and barring.

Despite what you may have read, they do not have the ability to rotate their heads about 360 degrees.

They can, however, turn their heads over 180 degrees, creating the impression that they are rotating their head entirely around. Because these birds cannot swivel their eyes from side to side and instead rotate their heads around.

Its incredible power to move its head thus far allows it to seek its favored prey, which includes frogs, mice, and raptors such as falcons, osprey, and other owls.

Scientific name Bubo virginianus
Weight 31 to 87 oz 
Size 19 to 21 in long
Wingspan 41 to 56 in

2. Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl

The eastern screech owl spends a significant portion of its time mostly on the Rocky Mountains of the east side. They may be seen throughout the entirety of Virginia in all sections of the state.

Eastern screech owls have always been great concealers. Their mottled gray or reddish-brown fur blends nicely into the leaves of the trees in which they prefer to sit and nest.

In fact, you may not recognize them unless you spot their brilliant yellow eyes.

They feature ear tufts and a golden beak, as well as a black V across their eyes.

Because these owls scavenge in the dark, they are considerably more difficult to spot. Your best opportunity is to hear their whiny trill scream and then maintain an eye out for them.


When they are out foraging for food, they are rather noisy. The foods they consume include small earthworms, animals, amphibians, and insects.

If you really do not like observing birds during the night, check at the holes of trees as you stroll about their natural habitat. You should be capable of seeing them while they slumber away the day.

Scientific name Megascops asio
Weight 4.2 to 8.7 oz
Size 6.2 to 9.8 in long
Wingspan 18.8 to 24.1 in

3. Barred Owl

Barred Owl

As the name implies, a huge owl has barred feathers. The barred owl does have a brown upper body with cream-white striping and a light lower body with brown streaks on the lower abdomen and chest.

It has a broad, spherical head featuring faint, concentric patterns and a light face disk. It features huge, black eyes that are close together, as well as a pale yellow beak. The feathery legs and yellow foot with black claws of the barred owl.

Barred owl species are plentiful throughout Virginia and can be seen all year.


They prefer mature evergreen and mixed woods, although they may also be discovered among forest borders, coniferous forests, semi-open woodlands, and big parks with older trees.

They build their nests in the hollow trunks of big trees or snags. Search to find them in densely forested places.

The barred owl would be a noisy raptor with a diverse repertoire of magnificent, long-distance sounds.

The most typical cry is a sequence of 8 hoots that might be remembered as hu hu hu hoo, hu hu hu huhoo.

Eerie cackling, shrieking, grumbling, and cat-like howls are among the other voices.

The prey of barred owls includes amphibians, birds, and small mammals, as well as invertebrates, fish, and reptiles. These are opportunistic hunters who prey after dusk from perches.

Despite having one of North America’s most numerous owl species, barred owls are particularly sensitive to deforestation and the degradation of ancient forests, which makes them an ideal indicator species.

Meanwhile, this is a hardy and adaptive species with quite a broad range, and population figures have grown during recent decades.

Scientific name Strix varia
Weight 16.5 to 36.7 oz
Size 16 to 20 in long
Wingspan 38 to 42 in

4. Barn Owl

Barn Owl

The barn owl is one of the medium size owls distinguished by a white, heart-shaped face disk. They may be seen in open areas all around Virginia.

Barn owls hunt mostly by sound and use their acute hearing to track down tiny creatures in the dark.

They are also most active during dusk and sunrise, although they can be observed scavenging throughout the day as well.

Barn owls nesting throughout Virginia often pair for life during the mating season. During the spring season, females hatch a clutch of between two and six white eggs.

When searching for a barn owl throughout Virginia, check for its light, buffy-white feathers. Throughout the day, search for them resting among trees or on wooden poles.

You might notice their terrifying shriek during the night as they hunt for food.

Scientific name Tyto alba
Weight 15 to 24.6 oz
Size 12.4 to 16 in long
Wingspan 40 to 50 in

5. Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl

The short-eared owl is one of the medium-sized grassland owls. It is distinguished by its rounded head and short ear tufts.

It has mottled brown, white, and buff feathers below and above, having black streaks on the chest. The middle of the face appears white, with a brown face disc rimmed by a light rim. 

It has piercing yellow eyes that are surrounded by black eye spots.

They are found throughout North America, with the vast bulk of the population reproducing mostly in the north and migrating south during the winter season.

Their winter range includes Virginia.

Short-eared owls like broad, thinly vegetated habitats. Search for them during sunrise or sunset in broad grasslands and meadows. They may be located on the ground or up in the air. They fly in a floppy, bat-like manner. 

The typical voice is a scratchy bark; however, in the wintertime, they are generally silent.


Short-eared owls primarily feed on rodents, including mice, voles, and rats. They also steal birds and their young. Short-eared owl populations seem to be declining as a result of loss of habitat.

Scientific name Asio flammeus
Weight 7.2 to 16.9 oz
Size 13.5 to 17 in long
Wingspan 33.4 to 40.4 in

6. Long-Eared Owl

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared owls are called from their extensive ear tufts. Its feathers are a dark, mottled blend of grey, brown, and buff.

The underside is buff having dark brown stripes. Its face disc appears buff with a white center. This one has orange-yellow eyes and a blackish bill.

Long-eared owls may be found throughout the continent. They are scarce across Virginia; however, they can be seen in the northernmost sections during the winter season.


They like to live in woods and woodlands alongside heavily vegetated open regions like grasslands and shrublands. They can be spotted among other places in gardens, farmlands, cemeteries, parks, and orchards.

This quiet, stealthy owl is difficult to notice. They get a diverse spectrum of noises that vary by place. The man sings in a strong, shouting tone.

Females also have nasal, high-pitched whistling. They also produce yelping sounds similar to cats. 

Despite their remarkable concealment, they are quiet during the wintertime and frequently roost communally, enabling them to see. Long-eared owl species could be diminishing owing to habitat destruction.

Scientific name Asio otus
Weight 7.7 to 15.3 oz
Size 13.8 to 15.7 in long
Wingspan 35.4 to 39.4 in

7. Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl

The northern saw-whet owls are among the continent’s cutest and tiniest owls. It features a big, spherical head and a small, tight body.

It has a rich brown feather having tiny white dots on the upper parts and blotchy white bands on the underparts.

The face disc is a lighter brown, with a white Y-shape running from the brows towards the beak, across its massive yellow eyes.

Northern saw-whet owls like coniferous woodlands. During the cold season, they prefer evergreen or mixed forests.

They build their nests within tree cavities dug by woodpeckers or within abandoned nests of many other species.

They may be found in western and northern Virginia during the winter season.

These owls are difficult to notice. Watch for the call, which might be audible from afar. The sound seems whistly and repeated, similar to a saw getting sharpening on a whetting rock, thus the nickname.

They are nocturnal owls having excellent ears that can identify prey only by sound. The great majority of their food consists of rodents.

They also continually take amphibians, bats, birds, and insects to some extent.

Even though the northern saw-whet owl would be a frequent and widespread bird, the southern Appalachian habitat seems threatened.

The primary hazard to this bird includes habitat loss caused by logging, deforestation, and forest devastation.

Scientific name Aegolius acadicus
Weight 2.4 to 5.3 oz 
Size 7.0 to 8.3 in long
Wingspan 16.4 to 19 in


Owls are useful to people because they devour many more rodent pests than any other species, making them economically and environmentally beneficial.

They are crucial in agricultural regions since they are probably more effective than pesticides in managing pests.

Ironically, pesticide usage is one of the more serious risks to owls, as they are poisoned unintentionally by the harmful compounds collected in their diet.

Most North American owl species are steady, while others are declining. Aside from pesticide usage, habitat destruction is a serious danger.

Owl boxes are an excellent method to attract owls to your backyard, where they may help reduce pests and offer much-needed nesting places for these essential birds.


What kinds of owls may be found in Virginia?

The Long-eared Owl, Barred Owl, Snowy Owl, and Great Horned Owl are among the owl species found across Virginia.

Each of the following owl species makes its own distinct cry; therefore, if you want to experience the many noises that owls produce throughout Virginia, you need to go out and pay attention to them personally!

What is Virginia's more frequent owl?

The Long-eared Owl represents the most frequent owl throughout Virginia. The large ear tufts, yellow beaks, and dark brown eyes distinguish this owl species.

A medium-sized owl has brown upper parts, including white markings, and the Long-eared Owl White has brown stripes on the undersides.

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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