Everything You Need to Know About Owls in Florida

Snowy owl

Owls are an iconic species that I still get really excited about if I spot one.

They are fantastic birds of prey that hunt and eat small mammals as well as snakes, frogs, and insects.  Owls eat their prey whole, often after removing the head, and then regurgitate the bones and fur.

The largest Owls in Florida are the Great Horned Owls and the smallest owls in Florida are Burrowing Owls.

To find owls in Florida head to woodland at dawn or dusk for the best chance of seeing them. Or to find the burrowing owl head to open land, but being small they can be harder to spot than you think.

There are 6 regular species of owl and 1 accidental species of owl that have been spotted in Florida according to the World Bird Database and Florida Ornithological Society.

Six of these species of owl of Florida are regular species and one is an accidental species, that has confirmed sightings in the last 10 years.  There are also other species of owl considered accidental visitors, but I have not included these as the number of sightings is so low.

Baby Owls are so cute you should also check out more about them.

So read on to find out more about the Owls of Florida.

There are 7 species of Owl in Florida:

  1. Barn Owl
  2. Eastern-screech Owl
  3. Great Horned Owl
  4. Barred Owl
  5. Short-eared Owl
  6. Burrowing Owl
  7. Snowy Owl

The 7 Species of Owl of Florida

1. Barn Owl

Barn Owls can be seen all year in Florida throughout the state. They do not migrate.

  • 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)

Barn Owls have white faces, chest, and belly, and underwings and are buff colored on the back. They have long rounded wings and short tails, with round faces.  Females have spots on their chests which reduce parasites and the more spots the female has the more the male helps build the nest!

They hunt for small rodents at night over open ground such as fields and meadows and are so named as they often roost in quiet barns during the day. Barn owls swallow their prey whole and cough up pellets twice a day. 

The Barn Owl predominantly finds prey by sound as they have the best hearing of any animal tested.  This helps them to catch prey in complete darkness or those hidden under vegetation or show.

They nest in tree cavities, caves, and often in barns or other abandoned or quiet buildings.  The nest is made of regurgitated pellets, arranged into a cup with their feet.  They lay 2-18 white eggs over 1- 3 broods.

There are about 46 species of Barn Owl worldwide and they are found on six continents. They don’t hoot like other owls and instead make a raspy screech call.

2. Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern screech owl

The Eastern Screech-Owl can be seen all year in Florida.

  • 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)

This short stocky bird comes in gray and red colorings.  They have a large head and almost no neck and are about the size of a robin but much bulkier.  Their patterned and spotted camouflage makes them hard to spot against tree bark.

The Eastern Screech-Owl can be found in woods and parks and you may found one sunning itself in a tree cavity on cold sunny days or by the excited mobbing of songbirds when they find them. A pile of pellets is also a giveaway.

They make a shrill, descending whinny call and a vibrating trill.

Hunting mostly at night but also at dawn and dusk, Eastern Screech-Owls eat most small animals, including birds, mammals, insects, or reptiles, and amphibians.  They often sit and wait for prey to pass and pounce from perches.

Abandoned woodpecker nests are often used by the Eastern Screech-Owl or other holes or cavities as they never dig one themselves. They don’t add any nesting material, instead, they lay their eggs on whatever debris is on the bottom of the cavity. They lay 2-6 white eggs.

3. Great Horned Owl

Great horned owl

The Great Horned Owl can be found all year in Florida and across all of North America. 

They are large owls with thick bodies and large ear-like tufts on their heads.

  • 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)

Great Horned Owls are gray-brown with a mottled pattern and a white patch at the throat. They have broad rounded wings and a deep hooting call.  It is one of the most common owls in North America and lives in most habitats from forests to deserts, cities, or grasslands.

Birds and mammals, even bigger than themselves, are prey for these powerful hunters. They will also hunt other raptors such as Ospreys, Peregrine falcons, or other owls. Their varied diet includes small rodents such as mice or, skunks, geese and hares or insects, fish, and carrion.  They are not fussy and will eat almost anything!

Great Horned Owls nest in trees and often use an old nest from another species.  They line the nest with bark, leaves, downy feathers or pellets, but sometimes leave it unlined. They lay 1-4 white eggs.

4. Barred Owl

Barred owl

The Barred Owl can be found all year in Florida. They are the species of owl most commonly spotted in Florida.

These large stocky birds are between the size of a crow and a goose.

  • 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)

Barred Owls are brown and white with a mottled pattern of vertical stripes on their belly and horizontal stripes on their backs and upper chest.  They have black eyes, the classic round head, no ear tufts, and a rounded tail.

A loud barking hoo hoo call is made by the Barred Owl.

They hunt for small animals, including squirrels, rabbits, birds, and voles, by sitting and watching from an elevated perch.  They live in large mature forests, often near water, and nest in tree cavities, laying 1-5 white eggs.

5. Short-eared Owl

short eared owl

The Short-eared Owl can be found mostly in winter in Florida and some hang around into June before migrating to more northern states and Canada for breeding.  They are medium-sized, about the same as a crow, and with very small ear tufts.

  • 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)

Short-eared Owls have black, brown, and white mottled coloring with a pale face and black-rimmed yellow eyes.  They have broad wings with a rounded end and a short tail.

Unlike most owls, the Short-eared Owl hunts during the day, mostly at dawn and dusk.  They fly low over the ground looking and listening for movement from their prey of small mammals such as voles and mice.  

Short-eared Owls are also unusual in that they build their own nest by scraping the ground into a bowl and lining it with grass and soft feathers.  They lay 1-11 cream or white eggs.

These owls are not very vocal but during courtship, the males will make about a dozen hoots and they may bark, whine or scream when defending the nest.

6. Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owls can be seen all year in Florida more in the south of the state.

Burrowing Owls are unusual in that they hunt on the ground during the day, run around on their long legs and live underground in burrows.

Burrowing Owls seem to have flatter heads and lack the face disc and ear tufts of some owls, giving them an unusual expression.

Adults are mottled brown and white and with yellow bills and eyes. Their undersides are paler than the back. Juveniles are less mottled.

  • Length: 7.5-9.8 in (19-25 cm)
  • Weight: 5.3 oz (150 g)
  • Wingspan: 21.6 in (55 cm)

Breeding in western US states and into southern Canada before migrating south to Mexico and Central America. Those in the southwest, Florida and northern Mexico remain all year.

They can be found in open areas with low vegetation and grassland, usually where prairie dogs or other burrowing animals live as they use old burrows to live.

Burrowing Owls are quite small and well camouflaged so they are much harder to spot than you would expect in the open.

Lizards, birds, mammals and insects make up the Burrowing Owls’ diet. Females tend to hunt more insects during the day and males will hunt more lizards, mice and voles at night.

They cleverly bring animal manure to their burrows to attract beetles and insects which they then prey on.

They will store any extra kills in their burrows and this can be quite a large amount (and rather smelly I suspect!).

They nest in old burrows and will often sleep on a dirt mound at the entrance.

7. Snowy Owl

Snowy owl

Snowy Owls are considered an accidental species of owl in Florida They have however been spotted in Florida during extreme irruptive years when lemming numbers are low in Canada. They were last seen in Florida in 2013 and 2014 around Jacksonville

  They are distinctive white birds with small amounts of black or brown markings, yellow eyes and are about the size of a crow.

  • Length: 20.5-27.9 in (52-71 cm)
  • Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz (1600-2950 g)
  • Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 in (126-145 cm)

They can be hard to spot against a snowy background but they do like to sit on high points, which can make them easier to spot. They are usually silent but may make a hoarse croak or shrill whistle at breeding time.

Snowy Owls are diurnal, unlike other owls, and spend the 24-hour summer daylight hunting in the arctic. They hunt small mammals, especially lemmings, and can eat 1600 in a year.  They also catch birds in flight, such as ptarmigan or waterfowl.  In winter they will eat rodents, rabbits, squirrels, and birds such as ducks and geese.

The Snowy Owl nest is just a scraped shallow hollow in the ground on the tundra.  They pick a windswept rise that will be blown free of snow and reuse the nest for many years.  They lay 3-11 white eggs.