8 Owls in Lousiana

8 Owls in Lousiana

The state of Louisiana contains many diverse habitats, allowing a plethora of biodiversity. Louisiana’s swamps and marshes are famous for the unique animals they contain, like alligators but sometimes, the state’s various plentiful bird species are overlooked.

Louisiana is home to eight species of owls. Owls are beneficial not only in controlling the native rodent populations, but in keeping down numbers of the invasive Nutria (Myocastor coypus), an introduced South American rodent that’s destructive to swamp habitats, damaging root systems.

This guide will introduce you to Louisiana’s eight owl species, and let you know the habitats you’re most likely to spot them in.

1. Great Horned Owl

  • Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
  • Length: 18.1-24.8 in (46-63 cm)
  • Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz (910-2500 g)
  • Wingspan: 39.8-57.1 in (101-145 cm)
  • Lifespan: 10-20 years in the wild, can reach 30+ years in captivity
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Great Horned Owl is not only Louisiana’s largest owl species, but the largest owl in North America. This magnificent owl is capable of not only catching an owl’s typical prey – small rodents, like mice and voles – but larger prey too, like jackrabbits or unfortunate young cats.

Great horned owl

This species is very adaptable, so are present almost anywhere. However, their most preferred habitat is deciduous and evergreen forests. The Great Horned Owl is known to be a skilled predator of the invasive brown rat, making them a helpful tool to farmers and homeowners.

Occasionally, this species hunts in daylight, and this is likely to be your best chance at seeing one of these magnificent birds in action. If you can find a Great Horned’s hangout, you’re likely to find owl pellets – items the owl can’t digest, like bones and fur, regurgitated into a compact oval.

Dissecting an owl pellet can give you a good look at what your local predators have been eating!

2. Barn Owl

  • Scientific name: Tyto alba
  • Length: 12.6-15.8 in (32-40 cm)
  • Weight: 14.1-24.7 oz (400-700 g)
  • Wingspan: 39.4-49.2 in (100-125 cm)
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years in the wild, can reach 30+ years in captivity
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

This owl is one of the most widespread owls in the world, and one of the most widely distributed birds altogether; they are present almost everywhere in the world.

Barn owl perched

Like their name suggests, the Barn Owl is often found in barns and abandoned structures, as they prefer to build their nests here rather than in tree cavities.

Barn Owls are one of few migratory birds of prey in the US, and often fly south for the winter.

Louisiana is within their year-round range, which means that you can spot owls here at any time. These owls prefer open habitats such as fields for hunting.

Barn Owls, in particular, are commonly found in fields, especially those bordered by thickets or groups of trees.

3. Burrowing Owl

  • Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
  • Length: 7.5-9.8 in (19-25 cm)
  • Weight: 5.3 oz (150 g)
  • Wingspan: 21.6 in (55 cm)
  • Lifespan: 6-8 years; the oldest known individual was 9 years old
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Burrowing Owl is a unique owl species that has a lot of differing characteristics from other owls – making it, surprisingly, one of the easiest owls to see in the wild if you enter their range. The Burrowing Owl does not nest in trees, or fly as frequently as other owls.

They have long, well-developed legs that allow them to sprint rapidly along the ground in pursuit of their prey.

Burrowing owl

Burrowing Owls are also active during the day, so if you find a site where they’re active, you have a much better chance at spotting one than any other owl on this list. Burrowing Owls nest in abandoned prairie dog & gopher holes; although they live alongside these species, they’re very small, so they rarely predate on them.

Instead, this tiny owl (about the same size as an American Robin) feeds mainly on invertebrates such as grasshoppers. Their small size makes them vulnerable to larger species, but these intelligent birds have come up with a unique defense; within their burrows, they produce rattling and hissing sounds to mimic rattlesnakes, which is usually enough to successfully ward off potential predators like badgers and coyotes.

Although this owl is endangered in some portions of its range, such as in Canada, it is considered of Least Concern by the IUCN; this is after a lot of conservation efforts to save the declining species. This species is known for starring in the popular children’s book & movie inspired by it, ‘Hoot’ by Carl Hiaasen.

4. Eastern Screech Owl

  • Scientific name: Megascops asio
  • Length: 6.3-9.8 in (16-25 cm)
  • Weight: 4.3-8.6 oz (121-244 g)
  • Wingspan: 18.9-24.0 in (48-61 cm)
  • Lifespan: 8-10 years in the wild; up to 20 years in captivity
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Although this species is sometimes even smaller than the tiny Burrowing Owl, they’d never let you know it by their big attitudes.

This year-round Louisiana resident is often bolder than other owls; while most of these birds prefer privacy, the Eastern Screech-Owl isn’t uncommon in suburban parks. In addition to small rodents, a typical owl diet,  they are opportunistic feeders and will eat large invertebrates, lizards, bats, frogs, and crayfish.

Eastern screech owl

This species is found in two primary color variants, the ‘red morph’ and ‘gray morph’; the red morph is more common in the South, so you’re likely to see rust-colored Eastern Screech Owls in Louisiana.

These birds are entirely nocturnal, so you’re not likely to see them, but at night you’ll commonly hear their trademark call – a trembling noise often compared to a horse’s whinny, not a ‘screech’ despite their name.

5. Northern Saw-Whet Owl

  • Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Length: 7.1-8.3 in (18-21 cm)
  • Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz (65-151 g)
  • Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 in (42-48 cm)
  • Lifespan: 5-7 years; in captivity, up to 14 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

While this owl isn’t as common in Louisiana as the other species here, they’re still present (though elusive). Unlike other owls, this species doesn’t typically eat their prey whole.

Northern saw-whet owl

This owl is believed to have gotten their name from their call, which sounds similar to a saw blade on a whetstone. This small owl has a catlike face with sharp features; juveniles are easier to spot due to their unique cinnamon-colored belly.

6. Barred Owl

  • Scientific name: Strix varia
  • Length: 16.9-19.7 in (43-50 cm)
  • Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz (470-1050 g)
  • Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 in (99-110 cm)
  • Lifespan: On average, 8-10 years, but individuals have lived upwards of 20 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

This breathtaking large owl is common in the state of Louisiana, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise; this species loves old forest and swamp habitats, and Louisiana provides plenty of both.

The Barred Owl is known for their infamous call, which sounds like “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” While this owl is just slightly smaller than the Great Horned Owl, they’re a meeker species, and they can often be displaced by more aggressive birds.

Barred owl

Barred Owls in the southern part of their range tend to be slightly smaller and darker in coloration than owls in the northern portion of their range.

The Barred Owl doesn’t have large feet in comparison to their body size, so they’re usually limited to relatively small prey, although they can take down large squirrels and similar-sized prey.

7. Long-Eared Owl

  • Scientific name: Asio otus
  • Length: 13.8-15.8 in (35-40 cm)
  • Weight: 7.8-15.3 oz (220-435 g)
  • Wingspan: 35.4-39.4 in (90-100 cm)
  • Lifespan: on average 10-15 years, can be up to 30 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

This perpetually surprised-looking bird is surprisingly social for a usually reclusive group of birds. During the winter, they’re commonly found roosting together in small communities.

Long-Eared Owls doesn’t build their own nests to raise their young, but instead takes over other species’ abandoned domiciles.

This species almost entirely feeds on voles, their preferred prey. The long-eared owl is one of the most numerous owl species in the world, and due to its very broad range and strong population numbers it is considered a least concern species by the IUCN.

But, unfortunately, strong declines have been noted for this owl in several parts of its range.

Owl conservation can be supported by simple actions such as not putting out poison for rodents; often, poisoned rodents continue to live for several days, but an owl who catches a poisoned rodent is likely to die.

8. Short-Eared Owl

  • Scientific name: Asio flammeus
  • Length: 13.4-16.9 in (34-43 cm)
  • Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz (206-475 g)
  • Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 in (85-103 cm)
  • Lifespan: 4-15 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Short-Eared Owl can be found in a variety of habitats, but they prefer fields and marshes, so they can easily thrive in Louisiana.

This species is one of the most easy to spot on this list; they aren’t entirely nocturnal, but often hunt in the early morning hours. If you want to see a Short-Eared Owl, try going for a walk around sunrise in their preferred habitat!

Short-eared owl

These low-flying owls often swoop in close to the ground in search of prey. They look much like the similar Long-Eared Owl, but of course, that species’ longer ear tufts help to distinguish the two.

While this species prefers to feed on voles, they’ve been documented taking prey ranging from tiny caterpillars to gulls and other seabirds!

Although this owl is considered Least Concern by the IUCN, they have been documented as declining in the southern portion of their range, which includes Louisiana.

Where To See Louisiana’s Owls

While some experienced birdwatchers might know how to find owls easily while out walking a trail, there’s ways to increase your chances of an owl sighting.

First, keep in mind that most of these species are nocturnal; if you’re resistant to night-time birdwatching, you’ll want to prioritize seeing fully diurnal species like the Burrowing Owl or the early-rising Short-Eared Owl.

Not sure where to start?

Some of the best ways to spot owls in Louisiana is by seeking out locations designed for their viewing. Many Louisiana state parks have safe trails designed for optimal viewing of wildlife; additionally, they usually have a guide to the species present at each park, so you can know what you’re looking for.

Additionally, Audubon chapters usually have their own chapters, in addition to leading guided tours. If you’re especially new to birdwatching, you may want to go on a guided tour for a little extra help.

Tour guides are more experienced birdwatchers, so they’re more likely to spot birds who are hidden by brush or camouflaged against their surroundings.

Invest in a good pair of binoculars. These don’t have to be expensive – many second-hand or thrift stores carry used binoculars, which can help you get started with a great brand rather than the cheapest options available.

Additionally, some libraries or birdwatching organizations will loan out or rent binoculars for a low cost. If you’re just visiting Louisiana and don’t want to pack expensive and breakable birdwatching gear, this could be a good option for you.

Want to encourage owls to take up residence in your own neighborhood?

There’s several ways to encourage owl populations to grow in your area.

For one, don’t put out rodent poison.

Not only are these inhumane, causing extended suffering to their rodent victims, they can be harmful to unintended species. Poisoned prey that exits the traps can be eaten by birds like hawks and owls, but also by pets like cats and dogs, so it’s best to avoid this potentially deadly method of wildlife control.

Encouraging owls to be present in your area can instead be a great method of natural pest control.

Some species will use human-created nest boxes. Depending on how large your property is, you can place one or several to encourage an owl family to take up residence. Additionally, you can make habitat friendly for owls by making it friendly for their prey species.

Leave brush piles for small creatures to burrow in, and let food-bearing plants grow on your property.

Allow dead trees to remain on your property, as long as they aren’t a potential danger; owls and other species may nest in dead tree cavities, and other species will feed on the insects that dwell within rotting wood.

If you’re dedicated enough to spotting some owls that you’ll go birding at night, be safe. Don’t explore bumpy trails, or go into areas prone to larger predators.

Bring a flashlight and/or headlamp so you can see where you’re going. And before you go, become familiar with owl calls – even those with the best vision are likely to hear an owl’s call before they see them.

Learning not only what owl calls sound like but how to differentiate each species will give you success in finding owls in the field.

Conclusion

Louisiana’s diverse collection of native owls provides something for even beginning birdwatchers to give a hoot about. The variety of habitats in Louisiana lets unique species like the Burrowing Owl thrive alongside more familiar faces like the Great Horned Owl.

Owls serve an important purpose in Louisiana’s ecosystem. While owls of course are fascinating and fun to learn about, they’re also crucial to the health of their environments. Spaces without owls and other birds of prey suffer from uncontrolled rodent populations.

Learning about owls & the issues affecting them not only helps birds in your area, but helps spread awareness of threats to these magnificent birds.

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