7 Owls in Georgia

7 Owls in Georgia

Georgia is a good state to look for owls, with 7 of the 19 different owl species found across the United States. These owls are an array of sizes, shapes, and personalities, and each species brings something different to the table.

Some of these birds can be easily spotted, while others are a bit more reclusive and require a little more effort to find. Regardless, these mysterious creatures, often hidden deep in the forests, are guaranteed to make your birdwatching adventure unforgettable with their haunting calls.

Join us as we delve into the world of Georgia’s 7 distinctive owl species, examining their individual behaviors and habitats, and sharing insider tips on how to spot these captivating creatures in the wild.

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 versatile Eastern Screech-Owl is impressively adapted to human development and is not intimidated by human presence. This bird is present throughout the eastern states, extending all the way down to Mexico. With striking distinction, the Eastern Screech-Owl showcases two unique color morphs – southern populations boast a rich, reddish hue while northern populations exhibit a more dusky, greyish plumage. This captivating variation in color is believed to stem from the color of the woodland habitats in which they reside.

Eastern screech owl

The Eastern Screech-Owl is typically a solitary bird, only forming pairs during its mating season in April. During courtship, the owls engage in bonding behaviours to form a lifelong bond. After mating, they build their nests in hollow tree trunks within dense and dark forests.

Although these owls are generally monogamous, some males have been observed mating with multiple females. In such instances, the second female often evicts the first and lays her eggs in the nest.

The Eastern Screech-Owl is an adaptable predator, feeding on a wide range of prey, depending on what’s available in its environment. In Georgia, it primarily preys on small mammals like voles, mice, shrews, and rats. Additionally, it consumes substantial amounts of insects, particularly beetles, and moths, as well as other invertebrates such as spiders, worms, and snails.

This owl also feeds on small reptiles, birds, and amphibians, and it has been known to opportunistically feed on fruits and berries. These owls primarily hunt at night, relying on their keen hearing to locate their prey.

They swallow their prey whole and later regurgitate the indigestible parts, such as fur, feathers, and bones, in the form of pellets.

The Eastern Screech-Owl is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List, which means it is not considered endangered. However, like other owl species, it is vulnerable to poisoning from its prey and habitat destruction or disturbance.

Where to look for them

In Georgia, Eastern Screech-Owls can be found in a variety of habitats, including mature deciduous forests, parks, and suburban areas with large trees. They are well-adapted to human development and are not afraid of humans, so they can often be found in residential areas near parks and woods.

To increase your chances of spotting an Eastern Screech-Owl, look for large mature trees with hollow trunks, as they often use these trees as nesting sites.’

Some good areas to look in are:

  • Panola Mountain State Park
  • Sweetwater Creek State Park
  • Don Carter State Park
  • Fort Mountain State Park

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 (2.6 to 3.5 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 91 to 153 cm (3ft to 5ft)
  • Status: Least Concern

The Great Horned Owl is known for its versatility and is found in a wide range of habitats, including deserts, wetlands, grasslands, cities, and forests, not only across North America but also as far south as Brazil. These nocturnal birds can blend in with their surroundings due to their mottled brown feathers. Their distinctive “horns” are actually plumicorns (feathers) which may serve as visual cues or as a means of communication with other birds, although their exact purpose remains unknown.

The Great-Horned Owl and its distinctive horns.

The Great Horned Owl is an early bird when it comes to the mating season in North America, starting the selection process as early as January. The male owl takes the lead in finding the perfect nesting site and attracting the female by putting on aerial displays and stamping on the nest.

Rather than building their own nests, these owls prefer to use open, abandoned nests left behind by other large birds such as hawks. Their nesting sites are incredibly diverse, including everything from caves to cliffs and even cacti!

The Great Horned Owl is a highly adaptable and opportunistic predator, known for its versatility in hunting. In Georgia, the diet of these owls changes with the seasons and the availability of prey, with small mammals such as voles, mice, and rabbits forming the primary food source.

However, they are not limited to just small prey and are known to feed on a variety of other creatures, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and even other invertebrates. When food is scarce or when they are young, they will turn to these alternative sources.

Great Horned Owls are also known to take larger prey when the opportunity arises, hunting skunks, raccoons, and porcupines. These magnificent creatures hunt mainly at night, using their sharp talons and beaks to capture their prey.

Despite not being considered a threatened species, the Great Horned Owl’s population in North America has seen a significant decline over the past 40 years, largely due to human intervention. A staggering 65% of owl deaths are caused by human activities, including being shot, trapped, hit by cars, electrocuted by power lines, and poisoned by rat poison.

Unfortunately, in the past, these owls have been viewed as pests due to their hunting of domestic chickens and small game, leading to them being hunted and killed by farmers and hunters for centuries.

Where to look for them

In Georgia, some of the best places to look for the Great Horned Owl include forested areas such as mature pine and hardwood forests, wetlands such as swamps, marshes, and river bottoms, urban and suburban areas, and agricultural areas like farms, orchards, and vineyards.

The Great Horned Owl is a versatile species that is capable of adapting to different habitats, so it can be found in a variety of locations across Georgia. However, it is primarily active at night and can be located by its distinctive hooting calls.

Some good areas include:

  • Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area
  • Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
  • Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge
  • Pine Mountain Trail

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 (0.9 to 1.3 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 29 to 36 cm (11 to 14 in)
  • Status: Least Concern

The American Barn Owl is a mysterious and intriguing bird that is known for its stunning, ghostly appearance. This nocturnal owl spends its days hiding in hollow tree trunks and thick vegetation, only coming out to hunt at night.

As part of the subspecies group that includes both the Western and Eastern Barn Owls, the American Barn Owl boasts a stunningly beautiful appearance.

With a creamy white face, chest, and belly, and pale brown upper body and wings, this owl is a true sight to behold. Its unique facial features have even inspired many myths and legends, painting the American Barn Owl as a divine or otherworldly creature.

The Barn Owl with its otherworldy appearance.

During the nesting season, which typically transpires between March and June, American Barn Owls form lifetime monogamous pair bonds. The male, with great determination, searches for an ideal nesting spot, such as a well-hidden tree cavity, a cozy nesting box, or a secluded cliffside, and energetically flies around the area to establish his territory.

Once the female arrives, he engages in courtship behavior, such as lively chasing and sweeping around her, before finally breeding.

In Georgia, the American Barn Owl’s diet primarily consists of small mammals, such as voles, shrews, and mice. These nocturnal hunters only hunt under the cover of night and use their asymmetrically placed ears to locate their prey through sound.

They possess the remarkable ability to hunt in complete darkness and, due to their higher metabolic rate, they require more food than other owls of their size. Georgia-based American Barn Owls may also feast on other small animals, such as insects and tiny birds, although these make up a smaller portion of their diet.

Given the agricultural landscape of Georgia, American Barn Owls may also consume small rodents, like rats and mice, that are attracted to farm fields.

Although American Barn Owls are not considered threatened on a global scale, their populations in North America have alarmingly decreased as a result of the escalating use of pesticides and rodenticides. These harmful chemicals can make their food sources toxic and lead to the deaths of large numbers of individuals. Despite this setback, the species has remarkable resilience and has demonstrated the ability to recover from these losses in the short term.

Where to look for them

In Georgia, the most likely places to discover the magnificent American Barn Owl are those that offer a blend of open fields and woods. These environments offer the ideal hunting and nesting grounds for these birds, who are particularly drawn to areas that boast old buildings, natural tree cavities, and specially-made nest boxes. If you wish to witness these fascinating creatures, actively farmed areas, where they can often be spotted hunting in fields of corn and soybeans, are your best bet.

The best opportunity to catch a glimpse of these nocturnal hunters is during their breeding season, which usually takes place from March to June. During this time, they are most active and energetic, making them easier to spot.

Some good areas include:

  • Atlanta Botanical Garden
  • Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
  • Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge
  • Crooked River State Park:

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 (1.3 to 2.5 lb)
  • Wingspan: 96 to 125 cm (38 to 49 in)
  • Status: Least Concern

Barred Owls, known for their non-migratory and modestly-sized territories, were studied and found to have traveled no farther than 6 miles from their original location in a comprehensive study involving 158 banded owls. Despite their comparatively narrow range, these common owls can be found in the majority of eastern states and southern Canada, and boast a beautifully distinctive brownish-grey plumage with striking dark striping on their undersides.

Barred owl

Barred Owls, much like their American Barn Owl counterparts, are known to form lifelong monogamous bonds during mating. The male owls court their females by nodding and bowing with their wings spread, eagerly waiting for their acceptance. Courtship typically starts in February, with the owls constructing their nests in hollow tree trunks within thick, dense forests.

In Georgia, the diet of the Barred Owl primarily comprises small mammals such as mice and voles, as well as other smaller creatures like birds, reptiles, and insects. Occasionally, they are also known to consume larger prey like rabbits and squirrels.

These opportunistic hunters are known to hunt both day and night, and they use their acute hearing to locate their prey around forest rivers and wetlands. They are even known to scavenge for carrion if it’s readily available.

With an estimated global population of 3 million, the Barred Owl is considered to be a prevalent species in North America and is listed as “Least Concern” on IUCN’s Red List. However, like other owl species, they are threatened by the contamination of their prey and the destruction or disturbance of their preferred habitat in deep, dark forests.

Where to look for them

To look for Barred Owls in Georgia, you can search in areas with dense, dark forests and nearby river or wetland habitats. These owls typically hunt in these areas, so they are a good place to start looking. You also want to look in areas with a lot of small mammals, such as mice and voles, as these are the primary food source for Barred Owls.

Some good areas to look for them include:

  • Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
  • Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge
  • Lake Blackshear Resort and Golf Club
  • Sweetwater Creek State Park

5. Short-eared Owl

  • Scientific name: Asio flammeus
  • Life span: 12 years
  • Size: 34 to 43 cm (13 to 17 in)
  • Weight: 200 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 remarkably widespread and abundant, having a presence throughout the world in different habitats. Its distinguishing features include its small black bill and its body that’s spotted with brown, along with its distinctive wings and tail that boast bold brown bars. Unlike other owls on this list, it is more frequently spotted hunting during daylight hours, making it a unique owl species.

Short-eared owl

The widely distributed and prevalent Short-Eared Owl boasts a distinctive appearance, featuring a short, black bill and a speckled brown body dotted with barred tails and wings, as well as breast feathers that are warmly brown with a light belly. Unlike other owls, this species is famously more likely to be spotted hunting during the daylight hours

The nesting habits of the Short-Eared Owl are rather unique, as these birds mate serially for a single breeding season that usually begins in March and live together in flocks. Unlike other owl species, they construct their nests on the ground in low-vegetated areas like prairies, meadows, and tundras.

The Short-Eared Owl’s diet in Georgia is primarily comprised of small mammals, including voles, shrews, and small rodents, as well as other small mammals such as rabbits, weasels, and hares.

They also feast on small reptiles, amphibians, insects, and birds like sparrows and larks. Hunting during daylight hours, they actively fly low to the ground in search of prey in grasslands, meadows, and other open habitats, taking advantage of available food sources with ease as opportunistic feeders.

Despite being widely distributed, the Short-Eared Owl’s population has unfortunately decreased due to habitat destruction and collisions with vehicles. However, the species is expanding its range globally, hence it’s classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN’s Red List.

Where to look for them

Short-eared Owls are typically found in open habitats such as grasslands, meadows, and tundras, so good places to look for them in Georgia would be in areas with low vegetation and large open spaces. Some nature areas that might be good to search for Short-eared Owls in Georgia include:

  • Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
  • Savannah National Wildlife Refuge
  • Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge

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 stealthy and intricately camouflaged Long-eared Owl, with its richly hued brown and black feathers perfectly mimicking pine trees, is an expert at blending seamlessly into dense foliage.

This bird, renowned for its prevalence and abundance globally, is widely distributed, and its haunting calls, carrying up to a mile even in the densest of forests, can often be heard echoing through wooded areas, making it a familiar and recognizable sound for those visiting its habitats.

Long-eared Owl

Nesting is a key part of the Long-Eared Owl’s life cycle, with the breeding season typically beginning in March. This owl species is monogamous, and the males establish their territory by singing and flapping their wings with a distinct rhythm. Meanwhile, the females are on the lookout for a suitable nesting site.

Unlike many other owl species, Long-Eared Owls do not build their own nests, but instead prefer to utilize existing hawk nests or the hollows of old tree trunks.

As a carnivore, the Long-Eared Owl’s diet in Georgia is composed mainly of small mammals such as mice, voles, shrews, and other rodents, along with insects, birds, and other small animals.

They can also consume small reptiles and amphibians when other food sources are scarce. The hunting technique of this owl species involves perching and waiting for prey to come within striking distance, but they can also fly low in search of food on the ground.

Despite its widespread presence, the Long-Eared Owl’s population is, unfortunately, decreasing, primarily due to habitat destruction and collisions with vehicles. Despite these challenges, the species is continuing to expand its range globally and is classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN’s Red List.

Where to look for them

Some good nature areas to look for Long-Eared Owls in Georgia include deciduous forests, mixed forests, and forest edges near open habitats such as fields and meadows. These areas typically provide the birds with ample cover and hunting opportunities. Parks, wildlife refuges, and other protected areas are also good places to look for these birds.

Some good areas to look are:

  • Atlanta Botanical Garden
  • Piedmont Park
  • Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
  • Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve

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 elusive Northern Saw-Whet Owl, is a small bird found in much of North America, including Georgia, and is renowned for its secretive behavior. It boasts a round, creamy face that is streaked with brown, a dark, pointed beak, and piercing yellow eyes.

The bird’s belly is a pale white with delicate brownish markings, while its upper body is richly dark brown with bright white spots. The bird’s name is thought to have come from its distinctive call, which is reminiscent of the sound of a saw being sharpened on a whetstone.

Northern saw-whet owl

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is a serial monogamist, tending to form pairs that only last a single breeding season, starting in March. However, during bountiful times of prey, male owls may venture to mate with multiple females. These feathered creatures make their homes in pre-existing holes created by woodpeckers, tree trunks, or man-made nest boxes.

In Georgia, the Northern Saw-Whet Owl primarily feasts on small mammals such as voles, mice, and shrews, as well as the occasional insect, bird, or other small critters. These cunning hunters are known for their opportunistic nature, taking advantage of any prey that presents itself.

They hunt mainly at night, using their sharp talons and beak to swiftly and effortlessly capture their quarry, even in cramped spaces, and they can overpower prey that’s larger than themselves.

Despite their widespread presence, the Northern Saw-Whet Owl is facing numerous dangers, including habitat loss and competition for nesting sites with other birds like Boreal Owls, Starlings, and squirrels.

Being a small bird, it’s also prone to be hunted by larger mammals and birds. Despite these obstacles, the Northern Saw-Whet Owl is still considered of Least Concern by the IUCN Red List.

Where to look for them

If you’re searching for Northern Saw-whet Owls in Georgia, there are several excellent places to look. To increase your chances of spotting one, focus your attention on forested areas, particularly dense and mature forests with a blend of conifers. These owls can also be found in wooded wetlands and near river banks.

Additionally, they’ve been spotted in some urban areas with large old trees or wooded spaces. To catch a glimpse of these elusive birds, it’s best to look for them during their breeding season, which usually starts in March, or during migration, from October to November. As nocturnal creatures, it’s best to search for them at night.

Keep in mind that these owls can be challenging to spot, but you can try listening for their distinctive call, which is a repetitive “toot” that sounds like a saw being sharpened on a whetstone.

Some good areas to look for the bird include:

  • Chattahoochee National Forest
  • Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Are
  • Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
  • Pine Log Wildlife Management Area


Georgia is home to many different owls with different lifestyles and habitats to call home. With species such as the Great Horned Owl and the Eastern Screec-Owl, these nocturnal birds offer a unique look into the world of avian wildlife and can be an overwhelming experience to witness.

Owls also play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of Georgia’s ecosystems by controlling populations of small mammals and insects, and knowledge about them and interest in them will help the conservation efforts in the long term. 

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