© KURT LINDSAY
OWL SPECIES IDENTIFICATION CENTER
Following is a list of 19 owl species that breed in the United States and Canada. Click on any owl to find out species information including size, habitat, hunting behavior, and listen to their individual calls. Scroll to the bottom to learn about the basic concepts used to correctly identify owls in the wild.
Once you understand more about the species in your area, you can get out in the field to start owl watching or continue your exploration!
All owls belong to one of two families:
Tytonidae (Barn and Bay Owls)
Strigidae (all other owls).
The only Tytonid in North America is the Barn Owl.
Owls are typically nocturnal or crepuscular. However, activity patterns can change seasonally and vary from one individual to another. Generally, more energy is required during the breeding season, which means owls are out hunting for longer periods.
Because owls vocalize at a distinctively low frequency, their songs can travel long distances without being absorbed by vegetation. Becoming familiar with these songs will help your identifications, so we provide these for each owl.
In general, owls hunt in two ways:
Perching and pouncing — usually from a low perch, common among forest owls
Quartering — flying low over the ground, common among open-country owls
To help with identification, we separate owls into two categories:
Those with ear tufts or horns called “tufts”;
Those with round heads, called “round-headed.”
To identify an owl, note these field tips:
Whether the owl has tufts or is round-headed
Eye and bill color
Plumage color and other distinct markings
Relative size of the owl
Details of the owl's habitat
Distribution of the owl in guide books