Owls are fascinating creatures that long have been seen as mysterious creatures by humans. These often large birds of prey are known for their distinctive appearance, with large, round eyes and silent flight, making them stealthy hunters.
Alabama hosts several different species of owls, including the Barred Owl, Great Horned Owl, and Eastern Screech-Owl.
Alabama’s diverse habitat, from the mountains in the north to the coastal plains in the south, is ideal for a diverse show of these magnificent birds. They inhabit a variety of settings, from urban areas to remote forests, and they play a huge role in maintaining the ecosystems they live in.
Despite their importance, many people know very little about these elusive creatures. In this article, we will delve into the world of Alabamas owls, exploring their behavior, habitat, and conservation status.
1. Eastern Screech-Owl
- Scientific name: Megascops asio
- Life span: 8 to 10 years
- Size: 16 to 25 cm (6.5 to 10 in)
- Weight: 121 to 244 g (4.25 to 8.5 oz)
- Wingspan: 46 to 61 cm (18 to 24 in)
- Status: Least Concern
The Eastern Screech-Owl is a highly adaptable bird that is commonly found in eastern regions of North America, including Mexico. It has the unique ability to thrive in areas that have been developed by humans and do not appear to be bothered by human activity.
Interestingly, this owl showcases two distinct color variations – southern populations are characterized by a reddish hue, while northern populations have a more greyish plumage. Experts believe that this variation is likely influenced by the color of the owl’s woodland habitats.
The Eastern Screech-Owl is known for its solitary nature, forming pairs only during the mating season in April. During courtship, the owls engage in bonding behaviors to establish a lifelong connection.
After mating, they nest in hollow tree trunks in dense, dark forests. Although they are generally monogamous, some males have been observed mating with multiple females in the same season, leading to the eviction of the first female and the laying of a new clutch of eggs.
As an adaptable predator, the Eastern Screech-Owl feeds on a variety of prey, depending on its surroundings. It primarily preys on small mammals such as voles, mice, shrews, and rats in Alabama.
It’s not strictly eating mammals, as its diet contains significant amounts of insects, especially beetles, moths, and other invertebrates such as spiders, worms, and snails. Additionally, it feeds on small reptiles, birds, and amphibians and occasionally feeds on fruits and berries.
The owl’s hunting occurs mostly at night, utilizing its acute hearing to locate prey. After swallowing its prey whole, it regurgitates the non-digestible portions, such as fur, feathers, and bones, in the form of pellets.
Although the Eastern Screech-Owl is not considered endangered, it is susceptible to poisoning from its prey and habitat destruction or disturbance, like many other owl species.
The IUCN Red List designates the Eastern Screech-Owl as “Least Concern”.
2. Great Horned Owl
- Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
- Life span: 25 – 50 years
- Size: 43 to 64 cm (17 to 25 in)
- Weight: 1200 to 1600 g (2.64 to 3.52 lbs)
- Wingspan: 91 to 153 cm (3ft 0in to 5ft 0in)
- Status: Least Concern
The Great Horned Owl is a highly adaptable bird and can be found in various habitats, including deserts, wetlands, grasslands, cities, and forests, not only in North America but also as far south as Brazil.
These nocturnal creatures have the ability to camouflage themselves with their surroundings due to their brown-speckled feathers. The owl’s signature “horns” are, in fact, plumicorns (feathers), which may function as visual markers or as a way to communicate with other birds, although their precise purpose is yet to be understood.
The Great Horned Owl is an early breeder in North America, with the selection process beginning as early as January.
Male owls typically take the initiative to locate the ideal nesting spot and court potential mates by exhibiting elaborate aerial performances and often stomping on the chosen site.
Instead of constructing their own nests, these owls prefer to use abandoned nests left behind by other large birds, such as hawks or eagles. Their nesting sites are highly diverse, ranging from caves and cliffs to cacti.
Great Horned Owls are versatile and opportunistic predators, known for their adaptability in hunting. In Alabama, their diet varies with the seasons and prey availability, with small mammals such as voles, mice, and rabbits forming the primary food source.
However, they are not limited to small mammals and are known to feed on a diverse array of other groups of animals, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and even other invertebrates.
When food is scarce, or when they are young, they turn to alternative food sources. Great Horned Owls are predominantly nocturnal hunters, using their sharp talons and beaks to capture prey.
Although it’s not classified as a threatened species, the Great Horned Owl population in North America has significantly declined in the past 40 years, most likely due to human activity.
Human activities cause 65% of owl fatalities, including being shot, trapped, hit by cars, electrocuted by power lines, and poisoned by rat poison.
Unfortunately, in the past, these owls have been regarded as pests due to their predation on domestic chickens and small game, resulting in them being hunted and killed by farmers and hunters for centuries, and still to this day by illegal poachers.
3. American Barn Owl
- Scientific name: Tyto furcata
- Life span: 10 years
- Size: 34 to 38 cm (13 to 15 in)
- Weight: 400 to 600 g (0.88 to 1.3 lbs)
- Wingspan: 29 to 36 cm (11 to 14 in)
- Status: Least Concern
The American Barn Owl, a striking and enigmatic bird, is recognized for its beautiful and ghostly appearance. This nocturnal nocturnal owl spends most of its days hidden in dense vegetation or hollow tree trunks, and only emerges at night to hunt for prey.
The American Barn Owl is part of the subspecies group that also includes the Western and Eastern Barn Owls, and its gorgeous appearance is noteworthy. Its upper body and wings are pale brown, while its face, chest, and belly are a creamy white color.
The American Barn Owl’s distinct facial features have inspired numerous myths and legends, often depicting the owl as a mystical or divine creature.
The American Barn Owl, known for its stunning and ghostly appearance, is a nocturnal bird that spends its days hiding in tree trunks and vegetation, only hunting at night.
During the nesting season, which occurs between March and June, American Barn Owls form lifetime monogamous pair bonds. The male diligently searches for an ideal nesting spot, such as a tree cavity or cliffside, and establishes his territory by energetically flying around the area.
Courtship behavior, such as chasing and sweeping, is exhibited toward the female before breeding.
American Barn Owls primarily consume small mammals in Alabama, including voles, shrews, and mice. Their asymmetrically placed ears enable them to locate prey through sound, and they have the ability to hunt in complete darkness.
Interestingly, these owls require a great deal more food than other owls of their size due to their higher metabolic rate.
They may also consume small birds and insects, but their diet mainly consists of small rodents found in the agricultural landscape of Alabama.
While American Barn Owls are not globally threatened, their populations in North America have decreased due to the increased use of pesticides and rodenticides. These chemicals can contaminate their food sources and lead to significant fatalities.
Despite this setback, the species has demonstrated resilience and has the ability to recover from these losses in the short term.
4. Barred Owl
- Scientific name: Strix varia
- Life span: 8 years
- Size: 40 to 63 cm (15 to 25 in)
- Weight: 610 to 1,150 g (1.34 to 2.54 lb)
- Wingspan: 96 to 125 cm (38 to 49 in)
- Status: Least Concern
A comprehensive study involving 158 banded Barred Owls found that these birds typically have non-migratory and relatively small territories, with a range of no more than 6 miles from their original location.
Despite this limited range, Barred Owls are widely distributed throughout much of the eastern United States and southern Canada. They are known for their distinctive brownish-grey plumage, which is accentuated by dark striping on their undersides.
Like their American Barn Owl counterparts, Barred Owls are known to form lifelong monogamous bonds during mating. During courtship, the male owls spread their wings and eagerly wait for their female’s acceptance, which typically starts in February. They construct their nests in hollow tree trunks within dense forests.
The Barred Owl’s diet primarily consists of small mammals such as mice and voles, as well as other smaller creatures like birds, reptiles, and insects. Occasionally, they are known to consume larger prey such as rabbits and squirrels.
These opportunistic hunters use their acute hearing to locate their prey around forest rivers and wetlands and will even scavenge for carrion if available.
With an estimated global population of 3 million, Barred Owls are also considered widespread in North America and are listed as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List. However, like other owl species on this list, they face threats such as prey contamination and habitat destruction or disturbance in deep, dark forests.
5. Short-eared Owl
- Scientific name: Asio flammeus
- Life span: 12 years
- Size: 34 to 43 cm (13 to 17 in)
- Weight: 206 to 475 g (7.3 to 16.8 oz)
- Wingspan: 85 to 110 cm (33 to 43 in)
- Status: Least Concern
The Short-Eared Owl is a globally widespread and abundant species that can be found in various habitats worldwide. It is characterized by its small black beak and brown-spotted body, as well as its striking wings and tail with bold brown bars.
What sets this owl apart from others on this list is its preference for hunting during daylight hours, making it a unique species of owl.
The Short-Eared Owl has unique nesting habits, as they mate serially for a single breeding season, usually starting in March, and live together in flocks. Unlike most other owls, the Short-Eared Owls will build their nests on the ground in low-vegetated areas like prairies, meadows, and tundras.
The Short-Eared Owl’s diet primarily consists of small mammals such as voles, shrews, and rodents, as well as other animals like rabbits, weasels, and hares. They also eat small reptiles, amphibians, insects, and birds such as sparrows and larks.
Being opportunistic feeders, they actively fly low to the ground to hunt during daylight hours in grasslands, meadows, and other open habitats.
Unfortunately, the population of the Short-Eared Owl has decreased due to habitat destruction and collisions with vehicles. However, the species is currently expanding its range globally and is thus currently listed as “Least Concern” on the IUCN’s Red List.
6. Long-eared Owl
- Scientific name: Asio otus
- Life span: 10 to 27 years
- Size: 31 to 40 cm (12 to 16 in)
- Weight: 160 to 435 g (5.6 to 15.3 oz)
- Wingspan: 86 to 102 cm (2ft 10in to 3ft 4in)
- Status: Least Concern
The Long-eared Owl, with its intricate camouflaging of brown and black feathers that resembles pine trees, is known for its remarkable stealth in blending into the thick foliage.
This species is widely distributed and has a reputation for being abundant globally, with its haunting calls carrying up to a mile in dense forests, making it an easily recognizable sound for visitors to its habitats.
The Long-Eared Owl’s breeding season typically begins in March, and males establish their territory through distinctive singing and wing-flapping patterns, while females search for appropriate nesting sites.
Long-Eared Owls differ from numerous other owl species in that they do not construct their own nests, opting instead to occupy available hawk nests or tree trunks with cavities.
As a carnivore, the Long-Eared Owl’s diet in Alabama consists mainly of small mammals such as mice, voles, shrews, and other rodents, along with other groups of animals such as insects and small birds. In times of limited food, these owls can also feed on small amphibians and reptiles.
They utilize a hunting strategy of perching and patiently waiting for prey to come within range, though they are also capable of flying low to search for food on the ground.
Despite its wide distribution, the Long-Eared Owl’s population is decreasing, primarily due to habitat destruction and vehicle collisions. Despite these challenges, the species is continuing to expand its range globally and is classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN’s Red List.
Additionally, the Long-Eared Owl is known for its expert camouflage and haunting calls, which can be heard up to a mile away, making it a recognizable and familiar presence in wooded areas.
7. Northern Saw-whet Owl
- Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
- Life span: 7 to 17 years
- Size: 17 to 22 cm (6.7 to 8.7 in)
- Weight: 54 to 151 g (1.9 to 5.3 oz)
- Wingspan: 42 to 56.3 cm (16.5 to 22.2 in)
- Status: Least Concern
The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is a small species of owl found throughout much of North America, including the state of Alabama, and is known for its elusive behavior.
It has a distinctive appearance, with a round face that is cream-colored and marked with brown streaks, a dark pointed beak, and striking yellow eyes.
Its belly is a light shade of white with delicate brown markings, while its upper body is a deep brown color with bright white spots.
It is thought that the Northern Saw-Whet Owl derived its name from its distinctive call, which is similar to the noise made when a saw is sharpened on a whetstone.
The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is a bird that forms monogamous pairs during the breeding season, which typically starts in March, but males may mate with multiple females during times of abundant prey. These birds nest in existing holes, such as those created by woodpeckers or in man-made nest boxes.
In Alabama, the Northern Saw-Whet Owl mainly preys on small mammals, such as voles, mice, and shrews, as well as insects, birds, and other small creatures.
They are opportunistic hunters that rely on their sharp talons and beaks to capture prey, even in tight spaces, and can take down prey larger than themselves.
Despite being widespread, the Northern Saw-Whet Owl faces threats such as habitat loss and competition for nesting sites with other birds and squirrels. They are also vulnerable to predation by larger mammals and birds. Nevertheless, the species is still classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN Red List.
Where to look for Owls in Alabama
One of the best ways to find owls in Alabama is to explore the state’s vast network of nature preserves and parks. Some of the top areas to consider include the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, which provides ample opportunities to spot the Great Horned Owl and Barred Owl.
The Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is another excellent location, where visitors can potentially observe the Eastern Screech-Owl.
Other areas to consider include the Sipsey Wilderness, where the Northern Saw-whet Owl can occasionally be spotted, and the Cheaha Wilderness, which provides an ideal habitat for the Barred Owl.
These areas can be accessed by hiking trails and other outdoor recreation activities, but it’s essential to respect the wildlife and the environment while exploring.
If you’re not keen on hiking, you can also consider taking a guided birdwatching tour. Local birding clubs and organizations often organize tours that allow visitors to learn more about owls and other birds in Alabama.
If you’re new to the birdwatching scene, going on trips with experienced people will both increase the chances of spotting the birds, but is also always a great experience, as people in the field are always happy to teach new people.
Regardless of the method you choose to follow, it’s very important to remember that owls are wild animals and should be observed from a distance to avoid disturbing their natural behavior.
Alabama is a great place for owl lovers and birdwatchers alike. With its diverse range of habitats, from forests and swamps to grasslands and meadows, the state is home to a variety of owl species, each with its unique characteristics and behaviors.
Seeing or hearing an owl when walking in the forest is always a great experience, as their hoots add to the feeling of being deep inside a forest and being one with nature.
From the small and elusive Northern Saw-Whet Owl to the majestic Great Horned Owl, there is something for every owl enthusiast to appreciate and admire.