13 Types of Owls in North Carolina

Types of Owls in North Carolina
Photo by Robert Larsson

Owls are nocturnal raptors that are found all over the world, and North Carolina is no exception.

Some main types of owls in North Carolina are found in the state: the Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Saw-whet Owl, and Eastern Screech Owl. 

Each of these species has unique characteristics and behaviors that make them interesting to observe and study.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the features of each of these types of owls in North Carolina and discuss where they can be found.

1. Eastern Screech Owl

The first on this list of the types of owls in North Carolina is the Eastern Screech Owl, a small owl species. These owls are nocturnal, meaning they are active during the night. The Eastern Screech Owl is between 6 to 9 inches tall with a wingspan of 20-24 inches. They have reddish-brown or gray plumage with white streaks and spots on the upper body and barred tail feathers. 

These owls prefer open deciduous forests but can also be found in suburban areas. They are generally silent but do make occasional high-pitched calls. Eastern Screech Owls typically hunt small mammals, insects, and even frogs. They usually nest in tree cavities or woodpecker holes that they line with leaves and feathers. 

Breeding season for the Eastern Screech Owl occurs between April and July with a clutch size of 2-6 eggs. While their population has decreased due to habitat loss and fragmentation, they are still found in many parts of North Carolina and remain a part of our natural environment.

2. Flammulated Owl

The Flammulated Owl is a small species of owl native to the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina. It is about seven inches long, with gray or rusty brown plumage and white spots on the wings. The Flammulated Owl prefers coniferous forests, meadows, and rocky slopes for nesting. Its diet consists mainly of small mammals such as voles, mice, shrews, and other insects. 

The Flammulated Owl is active at night and roosts during the day in dense vegetation or tree cavities. They are listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to their limited range and potential habitat destruction. The best way to observe the Flammulated Owl is to take a nighttime drive in the mountains of North Carolina. 

Listen for the distinctive “hoot” of the Flammulated Owl, or look for its bright yellow eyes reflecting light from headlights. Although it is a rare bird, it is possible to observe this elusive species if you are patient and observant. This is second on this list of the different types of owls in North Carolina.

3. Barn Owl

The Barn Owl is one of the many types of owls in North Carolina that you should know about. It is a medium-sized owl with a distinct, heart-shaped facial disc and long, curved bill. Its plumage is pale gray-brown on top, with a white belly and white “eyebrows” above its yellow eyes. 

Barn Owls prefer grasslands and agricultural areas, as they feed primarily on small mammals such as mice, voles, and rats. They are typically nocturnal and solitary but may gather in small flocks during the winter. In North Carolina, the Barn Owl is protected under both state and federal laws.

Despite their protected status, Barn Owls are still vulnerable to many threats, such as habitat loss and fragmentation, pesticides, and vehicles. People can help protect these majestic birds by creating Barn Owl boxes to nest in and avoiding activities that disturb their natural habitats. With the right conservation efforts, we can ensure the future of the Barn Owl, which is one of the types of owls in North Carolina.

4. Western Screech Owl

The Western Screech Owl is a common sight in the skies of North Carolina. This medium-sized owl is about 9 inches long and has a wingspan of 20 to 24 inches. It can be identified by its distinctive bright yellow eyes, gray or brown feathers, and a white throat with black streaks. Its voice is a soft, high-pitched whistle or trill often heard in the evenings or early morning hours.

The Western Screech Owl, on the list of the types of owls in North Carolina, mainly feeds on small rodents, insects, and other small animals. They typically hunt at night and roost during the day in tree cavities, under loose bark, or in old buildings. They are a great addition to the environment, as they help to keep rodent populations in check.

5. Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl is one of the most widely-spread types of owls in North Carolina. This large owl can be found in woodlands and even urban areas, hunting a variety of small animals such as rodents, skunks, rabbits, and birds. The Great Horned Owl’s striking colors and impressive size make it one of the most recognizable owls in the state. 

They can measure up to 24 inches tall, with a wingspan of around 4 feet. Their coloring consists of brown and gray plumage, with white patches along their neck and throat and bright yellow eyes. Though they can be found in many regions of the state, they are known to inhabit coastal areas more often than in other parts. 

While they have been observed during both day and night, they are mostly active at night, using their excellent hearing to detect potential prey from far away. Though they are one of the largest owl species, they usually rely on stealth to capture their prey. They are fiercely territorial and will defend their territory with aggressive vocalizations and displays.

6. Northern Saw-Whet Owl

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a small, secretive owl that is rarely seen in North Carolina. It is most often found in old fields, young forests, and other areas with dense vegetation. The Northern Saw-whet Owl is one of the types of owls in North Carolina and is a brown and white owl with distinctive yellow eyes. It usually hunts for small rodents, such as mice and voles, during the night. 

During the day, the Northern Saw-whet Owl may remain perched quietly, waiting for its next meal. This type of owl can be found in parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Piedmont region of North Carolina during winter. With its distinctive call and large round eyes, the Northern Saw-whet Owl is a unique member of the owl family in North Carolina.

7. Short-Eared Owl

The Short-Eared Owl is one of the more unique types of owls in North Carolina. It is a small, stocky owl with a round head and yellow eyes. The primary color of the Short-Eared Owl is brown, but they also have white spots and stripes on their wings and tail. 

This owl species is migratory, typically appearing in North Carolina between October and March. The Short-Eared Owl feeds on various small mammals and birds, including voles, mice, and sparrows. They often hunt in open areas such as meadows and fields. During the winter months, they can often be spotted roosting in trees or on fence posts during the day. 

The Short-Eared Owl is a protected species in North Carolina and is listed as a species of special concern by the state. As its habitat continues to be destroyed by human activity, this species is at risk of disappearing from the area completely. 

Conservation efforts are essential to ensure the survival of this species in North Carolina. Birders who spot a Short-Eared Owl in their area should be sure to report it to the proper authorities to ensure that its population can be monitored and protected.

8. Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl is a majestic creature that can be found in North Carolina. This beautiful species of owl is white and gray in color and has yellow eyes. They are about 2 feet tall and can weigh up to 6 pounds. 

The Snowy Owl, one of the types of owls in North Carolina, typically nests on the ground and forages for small rodents and insects. These magnificent birds are known for their ability to fly silently, making them efficient predators. The Snowy Owl is considered a special concern species in North Carolina, meaning it is not threatened or endangered but still requires monitoring. 

Snowy Owls may be seen in some areas of the state during winter months. It is important to remember that these birds are protected by state law, so it is illegal to hunt or harass them. Birdwatchers should take care to keep a safe distance when viewing these creatures in the wild.

9. Long-Eared Owl

The Long Eared Owl is a medium-sized owl, typically ranging from 33–43 cm in length. The Long Eared Owl is a resident of the southeastern parts of North Carolina and can often be found perched on trees or in open areas like fields. The wingspan of this species is typically between 80-95 cm, and its weight usually ranges between 210-400 grams. 

This species has long ear tufts, a dark brown or gray face, and yellow eyes that are relatively small in its size. The Long Eared Owls diet consists mainly of rodents, small birds, amphibians, and insects. They are types of owls in North Carolina that can also be seen eating carrion occasionally. This species is nocturnal, but they may hunt during the day if food is scarce. 

Additionally, they are most active in the early morning and late evening. Long Eared Owls are monogamous and will generally remain with the same partner throughout their lives. During the breeding season, they can be heard making various loud calls, such as hooting and screeching.

10. Boreal Owl

The Boreal Owl is one of the smallest types of owls in North Carolina. They are found in the high-elevation spruce and fir forests, primarily in the western part of the state. They have a yellowish-brown body with dark stripes on the back and head. 

The Boreal Owl is nocturnal, hunting for small rodents and insects and some birds at night. They also eat berries, fruits, and seeds. The Boreal Owl is an elusive bird and not easily seen by the casual observer. They are most active during the twilight hours when they can be heard calling out with their sharp “tsew” calls. 

It is easier to find them during winter when they migrate down to the lower-elevation forests. When found, they will perch silently in the highest branches of trees and watch for prey below.

11. Northern Pygmy Owl

The Northern Pygmy Owl is one of the smallest owl species in North Carolina. It is typically seen in pine forests but can also be found in suburban areas. These owls are dark brown and gray in color, with white spots on their wings and a white eyebrow line. They hunt during the day, mainly eating small mammals and birds, and are especially active during the early morning and late afternoon hours. 

Northern Pygmy Owls are most often heard, rather than seen, as they have a series of hoots that is higher-pitched than most other owls. The Northern Pygmy Owl is a year-round resident of North Carolina and can be found in the mountains and foothills region of the state. They typically nest in abandoned woodpecker holes or similar tree cavities, although they may sometimes use nest boxes that are placed in the area. 

When threatened, these types of owls in North Carolina will crouch low and blend in with the trees around them to avoid detection. Sightings of this species can be quite rare, so keep your eyes and ears open for this special owl when visiting North Carolina’s forests.

12. Burrowing Owl

The Burrowing Owl is one of the least common types of owls in North Carolina. It is a small owl with long legs and a long tail and lives in underground burrows. These owls prefer open grasslands and can be found throughout the eastern half of the state. They feed on insects, rodents, amphibians, and other small creatures that they can find near their burrows. 

During the breeding season, Burrowing Owls can be seen flying around their territory in search of food and mates. To protect these birds, North Carolina has implemented regulations on hunting and trapping. 

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission has also established nesting sites for Burrowing Owls across the state. These sites provide a safe place for the birds to nest and raise their young, helping to ensure their continued presence in the state for years to come.

13. Spotted Owl

The Spotted Owl is one of the many species of owls that can be found in North Carolina. The Spotted Owl is a medium-sized bird of prey and is easily recognizable by its large, round head and yellow eyes. Unlike other types of owls in North Carolina, it is a shy bird, so it tends to avoid people and other birds. 

The Spotted Owl is mostly nocturnal and prefers to hunt during the night. Its diet consists mainly of small mammals such as voles, mice, squirrels, and some insects. The Spotted Owl can be found in woodlands and forests in the eastern part of North Carolina. It typically lives in areas with dense foliage and plenty of roosting trees. 

The Spotted Owl is an endangered species, so conservation efforts are currently underway to ensure its survival. Efforts include habitat protection, education programs, and the reintroduction of Spotted Owls into suitable habitats. It is important to protect the remaining habitats of this owl species so that they can continue to flourish in North Carolina.


North Carolina is home to a diverse selection of owls. And as said from the get-go, there are many different types of owls in North Carolina. These include the Eastern Screech Owl, Flammulated Owl, Barn Owl, Short-Eared Owl, Great Horned Owl, Western Screech Owl, Northern Pygmy Owl, Boreal Owl, Long Eared Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Snowy Owl, Burrowing Owl, and Spotted Owl. 

Each type of owl has its unique characteristics and habitat preferences, making them an integral part of North Carolina’s wildlife. Birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts can enjoy learning about these magnificent creatures and their behavior in their natural environment.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
You May Also Like