Simple Ways to Identify Owl Species

July 6, 2020 / 4 min read 


You may have toldyourself,"an owl heard is as good as an owl seen"until now, but evenif you are a beginner, you can easily learn how to spot these amazing creaturesin nature. From color type to size and type of flying differences, here's howto differentiate owl species.


Needed equipment

Owls are nocturnal,so birders need reliable tools to spot them. This gives an advantage to owls, but with the following equipment, you can distinguish between owl's families easily.

- Birding binoculars with a large aperture

- A field guide map that includes photos of owls

- Recordings of the sounds they make so you can train your birding ear to the different sounds



Owl species identification

Barn owl

The Barn owls are an owl class on their own. Coming from the Tytonidaefamily, they are about 12in tall and can span their winds up to 35in. With their heart-shaped faces, dark eyes, and white to light brown bodies, they are easily distinguishable.


 - Slow buoyant flight in a back and forth motion

- Lives in open farmland habitat

- Barn owls rarely call, and they don't hoot. Instead, they shriek, hiss and snore


Northern Pygmy Owl

Coming from the Strigidae family, these little plump owls are identified with:


- 6 to 7in height with a wingspan of up to 15in – females are slightly larger than males

- Short wings and long tail, yellow eyes and "false eyes" on the back of the head

- Fast flightin a swift motion

- Lives in coniferousand deciduous forests

- Pygmy owls have high pitched "toots," but if you are near a nest you can hear trills, twitters, and chirps too


Flammulated owl

These owls, just like the Northern Pygmy, come from the Strigidae family. They are small, between 5.9 to 6.7in with a wingspan of up to 16.5inand gray to brown beakwithshort ear tufts. You can identify them by:


- Big dark eyes on a rectangular head with a reddish-brown plumage

- Quick flight in a swift motion

- One of the most nocturnal owls that can rarely be spotted during the day

- Lives in mountainous regions of mid to high elevation. Can also be seen in aspen, oak or coniferous forests


Long-eared Owl

Coming from the Strigidae family, these owls are slightly larger than their relatives in the family and are very distinguishable by their pointy ears. They are 13-14in in height with a wingspan of 37in. Females tend to be darker brown than males. You can identify them by:


- Mottled dark brown to pale under and upper body parts

- Orange eyes and long ear-tufts

- Buoyantflight in a back and forth motion – they appear largerwhile flying

- Lives both in woodland and farmland habitat

- Just like the flammulated owl, they are nocturnaland can rarely be spotted in daylight

- Rarely calls, most often during breeding season with repeated 'hoo, hoo, hoo'sounds




Written by: Monika Boshkova