14 Different Types of Owls in California

Different Types of Owls in California
Barred Owl Pair at Myakka River State Park (Explore)” by Photomatt28 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Looking for the various types of owls in California? California is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including different types of owls.

From the tiny Western Screechowl to the imposing Great Horned Owl, California is a great place to explore and observe these mysterious birds of prey. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore the different types of owls in California that can be found and some facts about them.

So let’s get started!

1. Barn Owl

Barn Owl
Barn Owl” by DarrelBirkett is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Barn Owl is one of the most common types of owls in California. These owls have a distinct white heart-shaped face and a reddish-brown body with yellow beaks and feet. They are usually found in grasslands, open fields, pastures, and agricultural lands. They hunt by flying low over open areas and listening for their prey, typically consisting of small rodents, such as mice, voles, and shrews. 

Barn Owls are territorial and will fiercely defend their nesting sites from other predators. The Barn Owl is a protected species in California, so it is illegal to hunt or capture them without a permit. This species can also be found in parts of Mexico and South America. 

Their numbers have declined due to habitat loss and pesticide use, but they are still quite common throughout the state. With proper conservation efforts, the Barn Owl population in California should continue to remain healthy.

2. Northern Saw-Whet Owl

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a small, nocturnal owl native to the western coast of California. This species is not commonly seen but can often be heard hooting its distinct ‘whinny’ call during the night. The owl prefers habitats such as coniferous and mixed woodlands but can also be found in parks and residential areas. 

The Northern Saw-whet Owl has a unique color pattern, with white streaks along its back and breast and brown and gray colors. It is one of the types of owls in California that also has a rounded head and large yellow eyes. These owls are very territorial and will protect their territory from other owls. They typically hunt small mammals such as mice, voles, and shrews but can also hunt insects and some birds

As a result of habitat destruction and human disturbance, the population of Northern Saw-whet Owls has been declining in recent years. Conservation efforts are being made in an effort to protect this species, including creating sanctuaries for the owls to inhabit and breeding programs. With proper protection, the Northern Saw-whet Owl population may be able to recover and continue to thrive in California.

3. Northern Pygmy-Owl

The Northern Pygmy-owl is a small species of owl found in California. These owls are usually 5–7 inches long and weigh around 2 ounces. They can be identified by their brown and gray mottled feathers, yellow eyes, and white eyebrows. 

These owls are typically active during the day and hunt small rodents, insects, and birds. They are types of owls in California that typically nest in dense forests, often near streams or ponds. While they are not particularly common, they can be found throughout California’s forests, including the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

The Northern Pygmy-owl is considered a species of Least Concern by the IUCN and is not threatened with extinction. However, their population numbers are decreasing due to habitat loss and other environmental factors. As such, conservation efforts are important to ensure that these amazing birds remain a part of California’s ecosystem. With proper protection, these owls can continue to play an important role in the balance of nature in California for many years to come.

4. Western-Screech Owl

The Western Screech Owl is a species of small owl native to California and the western United States. It is most active at night, hunting for small rodents and insects. These owls are brown and gray in color, with a distinctive facial disc that helps them locate prey in the dark. They can be found in a variety of habitats, including open woods, chaparral, riparian corridors, and even urban areas.

The Western Screech Owl is not a migratory bird but instead will remain in the same territory all year round. They typically nest in tree cavities or nest boxes placed in suitable habitats. They have been known to occupy abandoned woodpecker holes or use buildings and other structures as roosting sites. This small owl can provide hours of entertainment with its melodic call, heard after dusk and just before dawn.

5. Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl is one of the most common types of owls in California. These large, powerful birds are known throughout the state for their piercing yellow eyes and deep hoots. They can be seen in open fields and woodlands, perched on tree branches, or hunting along the edge of a field. 

They often hunt small mammals such as mice, voles, and rabbits, as well as reptiles and amphibians. These majestic owls can live up to 25 years in the wild and can even hunt large prey such as skunks and opossums. They are an important part of the ecosystem in California, helping control pest populations while providing food for other predators.

6. Short-Eared Owl

The Short-Eared Owl is a species of owl that is commonly found throughout California. It is a medium-sized owl with brown, mottled plumage and a unique facial disk. This owl prefers open grasslands or marshy areas and can often be seen hunting in the early morning or late evening.

It primarily eats small mammals, such as mice and voles, but it will also take birds and insects. It nests in tall grasses and makes a shallow scrape on the ground for its eggs. It is listed as an endangered species in California due to its declining population. 

The Short-Eared Owl, as one of the various types of owls in California, can be seen throughout the state. It is most commonly spotted in the coastal areas but can also be found in the Central Valley and other parts of the state. The best time to look for this species is at dawn or dusk when they are most active. If you are lucky, you may be able to observe this owl hunting its prey or calling out to its mate. With some patience and luck, you might spot one of these amazing owls!

7. Great Gray Owl

The great gray owl is a native of California and one of the largest species of owl in North America. It has a round, white-gray head, yellow eyes, and a mottled gray and white body. Its wingspan is up to five feet, making it the second-largest owl species in the state.

 Great gray owls are typically found in dense coniferous forests, feeding on small mammals such as voles and mice. They are most active during the evening and can sometimes be seen hunting during the day. During winter, these owls in California often migrate south searching for food. These owls are quite vocal, making loud hooting noises at night.

8. Long-Eared Owl

Of all the several types of owls in California, the Long-eared Owl is an elusive species of owl native to the state. They are often spotted in the state’s open woodlands, meadows, and grasslands. These birds have a unique look with their long, curved ears and large yellow eyes. They have a gray-brown body and white spots on their wings. 

The Long-eared Owl is also known for its distinctive “hoo-hoo” call, which can often be heard in night. These owls are nocturnal creatures, so they are most active at night, hunting for rodents and other small mammals. These owls live in small family groups, often nesting in abandoned barns and buildings. 

They may also take over an old hawk or crow nest or even use an abandoned squirrel nest as their own home. Long-eared Owls are mostly solitary creatures and can be seen flying alone during the night. If you’re lucky enough to spot one, you’ll see it flying in circles as it hunts for food. Although they can be difficult to find, they are a fascinating sight when they are spotted.

9. Barred Owl

The Barred Owl is also one of the most common types of owls in California. It is a medium-sized owl with a rounded head and large eyes, usually found in wooded areas. These owls tend to nest in tree cavities and are active during the day and night. Their bright white-and-brown striped wings can identify them, and they make a distinct hooting sound. 

Further, they feed primarily on small rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and even insects. The Barred Owl is found throughout California’s forests and can also be spotted in residential areas. These owls are a valuable part of the ecosystem in California, as they help keep populations of small animals in check

As long as they have access to suitable habitats, Barred Owls are likely to remain common in the state. Protecting their habitats and monitoring their population is essential to ensure they can continue to play an important role in California’s natural environment.

10. Spotted Owl

The Spotted Owl is one of the most iconic and beloved birds in California. It is a medium-sized owl that can be found throughout the state. It is a very vocal species, and its distinctive hoot is a familiar sound in many areas. 

The Spotted owl has long, barred wings; its plumage is usually brown or gray with some white spotting. The facial disc of these particular types of owls in California is also white with a black border. They are typically found in wooded habitats such as old-growth forests or riparian areas. 

Spotted Owls are nocturnal and feed mostly on small mammals and insects. They are endangered due to habitat loss and competition from the invasive Barred Owl. Conservation efforts have been undertaken to protect their habitats and to help keep the species from becoming extinct.

11. Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl is a beautiful bird of prey that can be found in the northern parts of California. They are usually seen during winter months when they migrate from the Arctic regions to find food. Snowy Owls are very large, with females being larger than males, and white or gray feathers. 

Additionally, they have yellow eyes, a hooked beak, and feathered feet. They mainly feed on small mammals like rodents and hares but consume waterfowl and other small birds. The Snowy Owls, also types of owls in California, are solitary birds and nest on the ground. They tend to build their nests on the outskirts of cities, near agricultural fields and wetlands. 

Meanwhile, they hunt during the day, using their sharp eyesight to spot prey. Their wingspan is impressive, and they can soar at great heights. Snowy Owls are popular in falconry and may be kept as pets in some areas. These magnificent birds of prey are an important part of California’s wildlife.

12. Burrowing Owl

The Burrowing Owl is one of the unique types of owls in California, with its long legs and feathered face giving it a distinctive appearance. It’s mostly found in open grasslands and agricultural areas, though it can also be found near wetlands and coastal dunes. These owls are especially active during dusk and dawn, but they can sometimes be seen out during the day. 

They feed primarily on small mammals and insects, and their diet includes rodents, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. Burrowing Owls typically dig burrows for nesting and roosting and often live in colonies of up to 20 birds. These nests can be complex, with multiple entrances and a long tunnel. 

In California, Burrowing Owls are considered a Species of Special Concern due to habitat destruction and predation. As such, conservation efforts have been implemented in certain areas to help protect this species from further decline.

13. Flammulated Owl

The Flammulated Owl is a small owl native to western North America. It can be found in California, usually in open coniferous forests or lowland riparian areas. This bird has a wingspan of approximately 18 inches and a weight of only 2.7 ounces. 

The Flammulated Owl, on this list of different types of owls in California, has a distinctive call, and its plumage is mottled gray-brown. This owl typically nests in tree cavities, so it is important to keep trees healthy when living near these birds. The Flammulated Owl is most active during the night, when it hunts for small insects like moths and beetles. Its diet also includes small rodents, lizards, and even frogs. 

This species is not a major predator of other birds and is an important part of the California ecosystem. Conservation efforts are necessary to help protect this species from habitat loss, as it may be vulnerable to climate change.

14. Elf Owl

Finally, on this list of different types of owls in California is the Elf Owl, the smallest owl in North America, with an average length of just 5.5 inches. It is found mainly in the southwestern states, including California. They have an orange-brown facial disc and dark eyes and are mostly active at night. 

Elf Owls typically inhabit semi-arid woodlands and riparian areas, such as those found in the western parts of California. These owls feed mainly on insects and other small invertebrates, which they hunt at night. They have also consumed small mammals, lizards, and snakes. 

During the breeding season, male Elf Owls attract females with a loud “whiny” call. The female lays 2-4 white eggs in a nest built within a tree hollow or crevice in a cliff face. During the day, the birds roost in tree cavities to protect themselves from predators. 

Unfortunately, Elf Owls are threatened by habitat loss due to development and agricultural activities. To help protect this species, it is important to conserve their habitats and promote responsible land management practices.


California is home to a wide variety of owls. Whether you’re an experienced birdwatcher or just learning about the state’s wildlife, you can have a great time trying to spot one of these amazing animals in the wild. Barn Owls, Great Gray Owls, Short-eared Owls, Great Horned Owls, Western Screech Owls, Northern Pygmy-Owls, Northern Saw-Whet Owls, Barred Owls, Long-eared Owls, Spotted Owls, Snowy Owls, Burrowing Owls, Flammulated Owls, and Elf Owls are all native species that can be found in California. 

If you’re lucky enough to spot one of these beautiful types of owls in California, appreciate the moment and take some time to observe and admire the owl’s beauty and grace. You may even witness some of these owls’ impressive hunting abilities with patience and luck. So don’t forget to look up occasionally; an owl may be nearby!

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