Of all the birds, owls must be some of the most fascinating and exciting to see. Personally, the most fun I’ve had while birdwatching has definitely been when looking for owls. The challenge of finding these nocturnal predators is something every birdwatcher should take on.
Georgia is blessed with no less than 7 species of owls, so if you live in the Peach State or just find yourself in that neck of the woods, these are the birds you can look for. Let’s get to know these birds and where to find them.
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Owls In Georgia
Barn owl Tyto alba
To kick off our list, why not start with one of the most widespread bird species in the world, the barn owl!
These solitary birds are resident in Georgia where you can look for them in rural and farming areas in particular. Barn owls are beautiful whitish-colored birds of the night sky.
Barn owls are not big birds, reaching up to about 15.5 inches in length and 25 oz in weight but they certainly are expert rodent hunters. It is estimated that a barn owl family can kill as many as 1000 rodents in a year!
These owls nest in holes in trees, sheds, barns, caves, and other sheltered cavities, but are also happy to raise their chicks in nest boxes. If you put in the time to set one up on your property, you may just be lucky enough to have a family of owls move in.
I still clearly remember the first time I heard the spooky screeching call of a barn owl as a child. This is definitely a sound that can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Barn owls can be seen throughout the state at any time of the year.
Eastern screech owl Megascops asio
The Eastern screech owl is a really cool little owl that occurs in two main color morphs, the usual grayish form, and an interesting red morph, both with ear tufts. These small owls are about 10 inches long and weigh around 7oz.
Eastern screech owls are Georgia’s most common owl species and are an adaptable species that you don’t have to travel to far-out wilderness areas to find. They can often be found in suburban areas and will happily nest in nest boxes and holes in trees.
These owls feed on a bunch of different prey items from insects to other birds and even small fish! The call of the eastern screech owl definitely isn’t your typical hooting owl call and you could be forgiven for mistaking their variety of high-pitched calls for a different kind of animal altogether.
Eastern screech owls can be found in mixed woodlands throughout the state of Georgia.
Great horned owl Bubo virginianus
The great horned owl is definitely the king of the owls native to Georgia, growing more than twice as large as any other! These impressive birds are about 25 inches long and weigh up to 5 ½ lbs.
This species makes your classic deep hooting call, especially in the winter months when breeding starts. Like many other owls, great horned owls are not great nest builders and choose to breed in stick nests that were built by other birds, on trees, cliffs, and buildings, but they will also nest in large nest boxes.
Great horned owls can be found in all sorts of habitats and eat a wide variety of prey items, sometimes catching animals even larger than themselves! Even birds as large as geese may be on the menu, although these owls usually eat rodents and smaller birds.
In the years of 2014 to 2016, Great horned owls nested successfully in an abandoned bald eagle nest on Skidaway Island near Savannah and in late 2020 they returned. Keep an eye on the savanna cam and you might get the chance to see these beauties without leaving the comfort of your house!
Great horned owls can be found throughout the state of Georgia.
Barred owl Strix varia
The barred owl is a medium-sized owl that is common in woodland and coniferous forest habitats. These birds reach 19 ½ inches long and reach nearly 2 ½ lbs in weight.
Barred owls have a distinctive bright yellow beak and black eyes. Their rhythmic hooting call is often uttered in duet and sounds a lot like: ‘who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?’
Like the great horned owl, these birds aren’t great nest builders, preferring to lay their eggs in nests built by other birds or simply in holes in trees or other cavities. These birds hunt by dropping down from their perches onto unsuspecting creatures like insects and rodents below them.
Barred owls are fairly common throughout the state and most common on the coastal plain.
Northern saw-whet owl Aegolius acadicus
If any owl can be called adorable, it has to be the northern saw-whet. These tiny owls reach just 8 ½ inches long and 3 ½ oz in weight but have large, bright, and beautiful eyes.
Unfortunately, these owls are very shy and difficult to see, especially since they’re pretty uncommon in Georgia.
These little guys usually nest in unlined holes in trees, often put there by nesting woodpeckers, but they will also happily occupy nest boxes. Although small, these birds feed on insects, rodents, and other small birds and hunt in the same way as the barred owl.
Long-eared owl Asio otus
The long-eared owl is a handsome species that takes its name from the prominent ear tufts it has. These tall and slim-looking owls are medium-sized, at about 15 inches long and 15 oz in weight.
These owls have a drawn-out call consisting of hooting notes at intervals of a few seconds per note. They nest in old stick nests of other birds like hawks and ravens. Long-eared owls mostly feed on rodents and small birds.
Unfortunately, this migratory bird doesn’t usually occur in Georgia and has only been seen in the state a couple of dozen times. These birds travel south from their breeding grounds in the north to escape the harsh conditions of winter.
Short-eared owl Asio flammeus
The short-eared owl is another migratory species from the north, although these birds aren’t that easy to confuse because they don’t have the long ear tufts of the previous species.
This owl is about 16 inches long and weighs up to 13oz. They are usually silent although the male may do some hoo-hoo-ing when wooing a female.
Another big difference between these birds and the long-eared owl is the habitat you can find them in. Short-eared owls like open areas, like marshes and grasslands.
This species is different from the others in that it may often be seen hunting for rodents and small birds before dark, especially on cloudy days. They also build their own nests on the ground and line them with feathers and grass to keep the eggs and chicks warm.
Tips For Spotting Owls
Although challenging, it is possible to go out looking for owls specifically. Follow these tips to help you find owls in their natural habitat.
- One of the easiest ways to see owls is by not looking at all! Listen out for the calls of agitated birds, which will often gang up on a roosting owl, and let it know just how unhappy they are with its presence. By investigating the sounds of agitated birds, I’ve seen many owls, as well as snakes and other interesting predators that birds don’t like.
- A quiet walk at dusk or a drive on a moonlit night will give you a good chance of spotting owls. Look out for flying owls and owls perched on fence posts, dead trees, and rooftops in the moonlight.
- Scan large trees and cliffs with your binoculars to find roosting owls in the daylight. Owls have really great camouflage and it’s usually their shape or silhouette that will give them away. White-washing on cliffs is also a good indication that barn owls may be hiding nearby.
- Get to know the different owl calls and listen out for them, especially in the colder months. This will give you a good idea of which owls are in the area and give you a better chance of seeing them.
Where To Spot Owls In Georgia
Georgia has many great birding spots, this short list highlights a few places you can go to look for owls native to Georgia in the natural habitat.
- Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge has populations of great horned, barred, eastern screech, and barn owls as well as many other interesting bird species.
- Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to look for owls because all 7 of the types of owls in Georgia have been seen there. The long-eared and northern saw-whet owls are very rare there though, but you could get lucky.
- Northern saw-whet owls have been found in Lamar County.
- Short-eared owls have been seen on Rogers Bridge Trail in Fulton County.
With such a great variety of owl species, Georgia is an excellent place for the keen birdwatcher to look for these silent hunters of the night skies. Use this information on the 7 species of owls you can find in Georgia to get out there and have some great sightings. Happy birdwatching!