Owls In Florida: The Seven Types Living In The Sunshine State (With Pictures & Videos)

white and black owl on tree branch

Last Updated: July 22, 2021

Are you wondering what owl species live in Florida?

Or...

Are you curious to identify the owl that's been making weird noises in your yard at night?

Well, you’re about to meet the seven documented Florida, so soon, you can be the judge of that. But I will take a guess and say the eastern screech Owl or great horned owl is your guy. Otherwise, you’ve got a rare species in your vicinity.

So that’s it, let’s meet the owls of Florida.

Florida Owls Identification

1. Barred Owl

barred-owl-owl-raptor-bird-of-prey

  • Length: 16 - 25 inches
  • Weight: 500 – 1250 grams
  • Wingspan: 38 - 49 inches

The barred owl is found throughout Florida where they thrive in old-growth forests with at least a 100-acre extent. So, yea, you need to live close to the woods or take a hike in one for a shot at seeing these owls.

Barred owls don’t come into or leave Florida at any point.

The best they do is move out if their most feared predator, the great horned owl, happens to show up at their home.

As with most owls, they are masters of camouflage. Their mottled brown skin blends well with favorite roosting trees - pine and magnolias.

A surefire way to draw out a Barred Owls is to play a recording of their call.

But don’t expect a friendly visit either.

Aside from being aggressive, their ultra-sensitive hearing and sight keep them close to the top of the food chain after dark. However, the bulgy black eyes give them a haunting look that I can’t pinpoint if I find it dreamy or spine-chilling.


2. Barn Owl

  • Length: 11-17 inches
  • Weight: 400 to 700 grams
  • Wingspan: 39- 49 inches

Although barn owls are one of the most widespread birds in the world, they’re rare Florida owl species.

They prefer to hunt open country sites, like grasslands, agricultural fields, deserts, forest strips, and even in suburbs and cities.

Also, they roost in abandoned buildings, caves, barns, and readily accept a nest box. Barn owls are strictly nocturnal in Florida but occasionally hunt in the day.

If you see one at night, it looks like a ghost.

Flashlights have a way of illuminating their white heart-shaped face and buff-dotted breasts while overshadowing the dark buff-colored wings and back.

The best way to tell you have a barn owl close by is when you hear its eerie screech.

I call them the banshee because of this sound and think they’d make better screech owls. Just kidding. 😀

Listen to what one sounds like: 


3. Great Horned Owl

  • Length: 17 – 25 inches
  • Weight: 1134 -1814 grams
  • Wingspan: 39.8 - 57.1 inches

Great horned owls are Florida’s largest owls and easily the crowned king of their avian territory.

Through size, grit, and fearlessness, these owls have no serious predator and prey on practically any meat that’s available.

They eat mice, reptiles, smaller birds, - including owls -  and small mammals. Sometimes, these raptors would eat skunks.

Unsurprisingly, they are widespread throughout Florida. They can be seen in woodlots with open spaces for hunting but also thrive in suburbs and city parks.

Great horned owls are not hard to recognize. Not only are they named after their unmistakable large frame, but also for the tufts of feathers on their head, called plumicorns.

They’re not horns or ears, and really, no one knows what they are for, even scientists.

Furthermore, their deep hoots can be heard from miles away in the woods.


4. The Eastern-Screech Owl

  • Length: 6.3-9.8 inches
  • Weight: 120 - 244 grams
  • Wingspan: 18-24 inches

Eastern screech owls are the smallest owls native to Florida. They are widespread in the state and can be seen in urban and rural areas.

But they’re hard to spot by chance. These owls have either a gray or rufous-brown plumage that blends into their roosting cavities.

Sometimes, birders miss them when they’re looking right at the birds.

However, you'll have more luck if you keep an eye out for these 3-inch cavities in nearby dead trees. Alternatively, you can listen to their distinguishable trill call.

Here’s the eastern screech owl song if you were wondering:

Screech owls might be small, but they feed on smaller songbirds, rodents, snakes, and large insects, which is good for the community. Fortunately, they’ll readily accept a nest box if you’re looking to attract a breeding pair.


5. The Short-eared Owl

brown short-eared owl on a sandstone

  • Length: 13-17 inches
  • Weight: 206 - 475 grams
  • Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 inches

Short-eared owls are winter visitors to Florida.

These medium-sized owls get their name from their short plumicorns, which are almost invisible. However, you’ll be more familiar with their shadowy eyes and pronounced facial disc that gives them some resemblance to northern harriers.

Short-eared owls are endangered species due to habitat loss, so they aren’t frolicking in the Sunshine State.

These owls are unique in that they live on the ground in prairies, grasslands, marshes, and meadows. Also, they’re most active during the day.

But they do use their silent flight and precise hearing to hunt like other owls. They have the typical owl diet that consists of mice and other small mammals.

The short-eared owl makes a distinct call that sounds like a cat looking for a mate.

6. Burrowing Owl

burrowing owl on the grass

  • Length: 7.5 – 11.0 inches
  • Weight: 147 - 240 grams
  • Wingspan: 20 - 24 inches

Burrowing owls are one of the small owls in Florida you can see. According to the Florida Natural Areas Inventory, their range is throughout the peninsula of Florida and also in the Bahamas.

They have a mottled brown and buff plumage and lack ear tufts. These owls are also lanky and have short tails.

Like short-eared owls, burrowing owls spend most of their time on the ground in open areas. Differently though, they prefer less dense vegetation like airports, golf courses, vacant lots, and open prairies.

Lastly…

Burrowing owls are sometimes called "howdy owls" because of the way they nod up and down and stick out their heads from their burrows.

Unfortunately, the burrowing owl is considered a threatened Florida owl species.


7. Northern Saw-Whet Owl

an owl sits upon a dead piece of wood

  • Length: 7.1 - 8.3 inches
  • Weight: 65 -150 grams
  • Wingspan: 16.5 - 18.9 inches

Saw-whets are the smallest Florida owls and one of the tiniest in the United States.

Although not exactly a rare species, they're incredibly hard to see. These owls are strictly nocturnal and roost in dense foliage that matches their plumage.

More specifically, they sit quietly near the trunk of trees at eye level and watch as you miss them.

Northern saw-whets feed on rodents, especially the cotton mouse in Florida. But they'll also eat young squirrels, smaller birds, and large insects.

To some, this owl sounds like a saw sharpening on a whetting stone hence its name. But only old-timers will know this sound.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you attract owls in Florida?

Provide food for them by letting part of your yard go natural or scattering grains on your yard to attract prey.

Spare the old trees for shelter or install nest boxes in one – many owl species in Florida, like the screech owls, take up residence in them.

Avoid unnecessary outdoor lighting, especially at night, as owls hunt better in the dark and seldom visit illuminated yards.

Do owls in Florida attack humans?

It's super-rare but indeed happens when owls are taking care of their young.

The owl attacks often occur with unsuspecting hikers and joggers, who escape injury-free or with a little scratch.

In Florida, great horned owls are the most likely aggressors, followed by barred owls.

Here’s their  famous "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?" call I forgot to sing:

What is the size of the biggest owl in Florida?

The biggest owl in Florida is the great horned owl and is usually about 18 – 25 inches tall, with large yellow eyes and easily recognizable large ear tufts.

Wrapping Up

We've established that there are seven types of owls you'd likely find in Florida with remarkable and distinctive features.

Hopefully, the next time you see or hear an owl or hear them around, you'd be able to identify which one it is.

Have you finally figured which owl has been making that weird noise in your yard?

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