Owl Identification

Please use this page as a basic guide to help identify owls common in North America. To start we're focusing on Owls frequently found in (but not limited to) California.


Barn Adult



Barn Owl
Tyto alba

Adult Length: 16 inches
Adult Weight: 16 oz
Diet: Small mammals and birds. Rarely amphibians, reptiles or insects.
Habitat: Open and partially open grasslands, farmland, urban.
Call: Screeeeech. Also beak clacks and hissing.
Nesting: In a tree cavity, building, cave, cliff or nesting box. Breeding season runs January-July.
Notes: Numbers of offspring depend greatly on prey availability and severity of preceding winter. Incredibly prolific rodent hunters.

Barn Owl Sounds:

GHO Adult and Chick




Great Horned Owl
Bubo virginianus

Adult Length: 22"
Adult Weight: ≈ 3.5 lbs
Diet: Mammals, including larger skunk and rabbit. Birds, including other owls.
Habitat: Forest, woodland, swamp, orchard, riparian, semi-desert, urban.
Call: Hoo-h'HOO-hoo-hoo. Also beak clacks and squawks.
Nesting: Steals or uses abandoned nests of other raptors, tree stumps, cliffs, shredded bark. Does not nest in cavities or nesting boxes. Breeding season is January-July.
Notes: Arctic Great Horned Owls will cache (hide) prey in snow to freeze it, then defrost their prey by "incubating" it.


Western Screech With Chick



Western Screech Owl
Otus kennicottii

Adult Length: 8.5"
Adult Weight: ≈ 8 oz
Diet: Insects, small mammals and birds.
Habitat: varied riparian, woodland, forests and urban.
Call: Repetitive coo/whistle in a "bouncing ball" rhythmic pattern (speeds up as it ends). Also barks and trills.
Nesting: Woodpecker holes, tree cavities, nesting boxes.
Notes: A similar species, the Eastern Screech Owl, resides in the eastern half of the US.


Ehrlich, Paul, David Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye. The Birders Handbook. New York: Simon and Schuster/Fireside Books, 1988. Print.
Peeters, Hans. Field Guide to the Owls of California and the West. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007. Print.

Illustrations and guide by: Sabrina Dolan