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7 Owls in Georgia (With Pictures & Sound Identification!)

Barn owl in flight in forest

Last Updated: October 30, 2022

Georgia is a beautiful tourist destination thanks to its beautiful scenery. The Peach State has a vast climate zone that includes deserts, ski zones, canyons, coastal beaches, and springs.

But…

The real eye candy here is the owls that call this southeastern paradise home. In general, there are seven types of owls in Georgia.

Four of them are year-round residents and the remaining three fly in from other states, seeking refuge from the winter cold.

Let’s get to know them.

Getting Acquainted With The Seven Owls Of Georgia

1. Great Horned Owl

a great-horned owl at top of a tree

  • Length: 18.1 to 24.8 inches
  • Weight: 910 to 2500 grams 
  • Wingspan: 39.8 to 57.1 inches

The great horned owl is the king of owls in Georgia. It takes the throne as the largest owl, not only in Georgia but all of North America.

But the reason it rules in its territory is its ferocious hunting prowess. When the sun sets, the big guy heads out in the twilight hours to hunt mice, small mammals, birds, other owls, and anything within that crosses its part - sometimes that includes human attacks.

Great horned thrive in almost any habitat. All they need are trees, food sources, and an open area to hunt. You'll more often see them perch on a pole or atop man-made structures to scout prey.

Listen, it doesn't matter if you live in a village or in the suburbs. Great horned owls also thrive in busy cities and suburbs, as long as there's food and shelter.

Among all the owls in Georgia sounds you’d hear, the great horned owl’s hoot has attained something of celebrity status. Its deep hoots have literally made it to T.V. more times than I can count.

If you want a more precise location to see these birds of prey, the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge is a prime location. As well as for other owls.

And, finally, a great horned owl is not horned.

Instead, it has an ear tuft, like many other owls, except the big guy has a more pronounced one.


2. Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern-screech owl on a branch

  • Length: 6.3 to 9.8 inches
  • Weight: 121 to 244 grams
  • Wingspan: 18.9 to 24 inches

The eastern screech owl is the most common owl species in Georgia. And funny enough, they are more often heard than seen by most birdwatchers.

These little owls have a whinnying song that's hard to miss once you know it.

Also, they look like miniature great horned owls, so you can identify them right away. Georgia screech owls predominantly have a gray plumage, but you may see rusty colored ones occasionally.

Coupled with their diminutive size, eastern screech owls are secretive birds that camouflage in tree cavities throughout the day. They mostly choose mature trees near water and are hardly ever seen in plains.

One way to find the screech-owls in the daytime is to listen for a raucous among songbirds.

It's a slim possibility, but there's a good chance the songbirds are harassing an owl, and rightfully so too - Eastern screech owls are predators and also evict them from their nest sites in tree cavities.

If you're really interested in seeing screech owls on your property, they'll readily take up residence in nest boxes. I don't blame the little fellas. It's hard enough that they lose their homes to deforestation daily.


3. Barn Owl

Barn owl from Central Arizona

  • Length: 12.6 15.8 inches 
  • Weight: 400 to 700 grams 
  • Wingspan: 39.4 to 49.2 inches

Barn owls have distinct white, heart-shaped faces with buff and white plumage. In-flight, they give a ghostly illusion of a large white bird.

These owls are native to Georgia and can be seen throughout the year, across the state. They are also some of the most widespread species of bird in the world.

It's not so hard to find one within its territory. Barn owls, unlike other owls, don't hoot but give a loud screech loudly in flight, most times in flight.

Funnily, a few people call its screech that of a banshee.

Barns owls live in abandoned buildings, warehouses, caves, and you guessed it, in barns and silos. But you are more likely to spot one either in flight or perched on a pole or building after dark.

Here’s a barn owl couple screeching from the window of an abandoned building:

Barn owls may not be ferocious hunters like great horned owls, but they are prolific vole and mice hunters. One family may devour over 3,000 voles in a single year.

Unsurprisingly though, farmers in Georgia put up nest boxes for barn owls to control the rodent population on their farms.

It's a win-win situation.

Actively looking to spot one? You'll have better luck at dusk or dawn. And keep an ear down for that screech.


4. Barred Owl

perched barred owl

  • Length: 16.9 to 19.7 inches
  • Weight: 470 to 1050 grams
  • Wingspan: 39 to 43.3 inches

The barred owl is the second biggest owl after the great horned owl in Georgia.

Aside from its size, it's more popularly known for its vibrant hoot. The barred owl sings an unmistakable "who-cooks-for you, who-cooks-for-you-all" call. Well, I don't know, Owlfie, I mostly eat out.

Another standout trait is their barred brown and white plumage. They also have bald heads, so they're easy to identify.

But barred owls are a stickler for matured forests and treed swamps.

The way it is, mainly folks who have a wooded backyard will likely come across the barred owl in Georgia. Or you can take a hike through a bottomland forest if you're feeling adventurous.

If you're in a prime barred owl habitat, the good thing is you can attract a breeding pair with a nest box. Plus, they stay in an area forever. Barred owls don't migrate and rarely wander far out of their territory.

Trivia: Barred owls only move to another territory when their nemesis - the Great Horned Owl - is nearby.

5. Short-Eared Owl

short-eared owl sitting on top of a tree branch

  • Length: 13.4 to 16.9 inches 
  • Weight: 206 to 475 grams
  • Wingspan: 33.5 to 49.5 inches

The short-eared owl is perhaps the only daylight hunter of the state’s owls. But they are only seen around in winter when they migrate from the northern U.S.

Short-eared owls get their name from the short ear tufts on their head. It's mostly inconspicuous, but they raise the tuft when they are alarmed to look intimidating. But what you can't miss is the shadowy eyes of these owls.

Another fascinating behavior short-eared owls possess is that they spend more time on the ground.

Heck, they even nest on the ground. As such, you would find them in open country areas like meadows, grasslands, and airports.

Short-eared owls don't exactly make unique owl sounds. Instead, their primary call is a high-pitched hoot that you might confuse for that of a smaller bird.


6. Long-Eared Owl

long-eared owl at a stone

  • Length: 13.8 to 15.8 inches
  • Weight: 220 to 435 grams
  • Wingspan: 35.4 to 39.4 inches

Long-eared owls are medium-sized migratory owls with a cat-like appearance. They can be found in every part of the state (but rare), except the southeastern region.

But I'll tell you, they're one of the most secretive owls, not to mention scarcely populated in Georgia. But unlike most owls who are solitary, they are social.

They can be seen in groups during the winter months, which is unheard of for owls.

Also, they are silent most of the year, which adds to their low-key profile. But during the breeding season, they are chatterboxes hooting low "whoo's" to woo a mate - pun intended.

When you do find one, you'll be fascinated by its looks. Long-eared owls have extra long ear tuft and an orangey face that make them look like a surprised cat.

Long-eared owls typically hunt in open areas while they nest and roost in dense trees and shrubs. Pine stands and shelterbelts provide suitable shelter when they visit the Peach State.

The Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to see the seven Georgia owls. However, long-eared owls and northern saw-whets are a rarity.


7. Northern Saw-Whet Owl

northern saw-whet owl on a fallen tree

  • Length: 7.1 to 8.3 inches
  • Weight: 65 to 151 grams 
  • Wingspan: 16.5 18.9 inches

Northern saw-whet owls are the smallest species in Georgia and are cute as a button. They are a little smaller than eastern screech owls and about the size of a hairy woodpecker.

As you might've guessed, they are named after a certain trait they possess.

This minuscule owl is said to sound like when a saw is sharpened on a whetstone. But I beg to differ anyways.

Here's what the male sounds like: 

Northern saw-whet owls are forest dwellers and cavity nesters. They particularly like to take up residence (roost) just above eye-level in old trees, near the trunk. These cute birds have been sighted infrequently in Lamar County.

Northern saw-whets enter Georgia during winter. Northern saw-whets are nocturnal and ferocious than they look. They hunt rodents, small songbirds, and occasionally, giant insects.


Frequently Asked Questions About Georgia Owls

Do Owls Live in Georgia? 

Georgia is home to four native owl species, and you are likely to have one or more in your neighborhood. The all-season owls found in G.A. are Great Horned Owls, Barn Owls, Barred Owls, and Eastern Screech Owls. On the other hand, Short-eared, Long-eared, and Northern Saw-whet Owls would visit from time to time. Rarely, snowy owls miraculously appear in the state from the North during irruptive years. 

Is It Legal to Keep Owls as Pets in Georgia?  

No, it's illegal to have an owl as a pet in Georgia or any U.S. state for that matter. They can only be handled or possessed by licensed individuals for educational and research purposes or injury rehab. Also, fierce owls, like the Great Horned Owl and Eurasian Eagle Owl, can be owned by a falconer for falconry. 

What's the Biggest Owl in Georgia?

The biggest owl in Georgia is the Great Horned Owl. It stands 24 inches tall and has a wingspan that's almost 5-foot long. These owls are ferocious hunters and are the uncrowned king of North American owls. Seeing a Great Horned Owl take-off can be mind-boggling at first, especially if you are not accustomed to large birds of prey.

Here's what a great horned owl in Georgia sounds like:

Wrapping Up 

Finally, we’ve established there are seven owl species in Georgia that you are likely to come across anytime soon. Snowy owls have only wandered into the Peach state a couple of times in almost a century, so they aren’t even considered visitors.

You'll have the best chances of seeing great horned owls or eastern screech owls in GA. Barn owls are also widespread across the state.

However, you'll need to have a wooded backyard or visit mature forests for any chance at spotting the rest of these owls.

Go get your binocs, camera, and notepad ready for the big find!

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