Philadelphia Owls: A List of Species

Great Horned Owl (courtesy USFWS/Dave Menke)

Great Horned Owl (courtesy USFWS/Dave Menke)

Many refugees, parks and environmental centers will have “owl prowls” in the next several weeks. The winter and early spring months are pairing and egg-laying time for owls.

Most of these “owl prowls” will take place in the dark. We may not see the owls, but we can hear their vocalizations.  They don’t sing, but we can hear their calls.

To help you enjoy those “owl prowls” more, here is a list of common species with links to information and online audio recordings of owl calls.

Of the 19 owl species in North America, eight species are listed here.  All are common in the eastern North America, but perhaps not very common in Philadelphia.

Common Year-Round Residents

Eastern Screech-owl (Megascops asio)

Eastern Screech-owl (Megascops asio)

Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio)
common year-round Philadelphia and PA resident; yellow eyes; breeding begins in March; cavity nester

Uncommon Year-round Residents

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) courtesy USFWS

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) courtesy USFWS

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
uncommon to rare year-round resident in Philadelphia and SE PA;
strictly nocturnal; dark eyes; eggs laid in Feb-Mar; cavity nests such as woodpecker holes or nest box

Great Horned Owl (courtesy USFWS/Dave Menke)

Great Horned Owl (courtesy USFWS/Dave Menke)

Great Horned Owl(Bubo virginianus)
uncommon year-round Philadelphia and PA resident; yellow eyes; egg laying begins in February or early March; open platform nest built by other species

Long-eared Owl by www.mindaugas.urbonas.in

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)
uncommon to rare year-round Philadelphia and PA resident; yellow eyes; hunts at night; nests in abandoned platform nest of other birds

Winters in Philadelphia and SE Pennsylvania

Short-earred Owl (courtesy USFWS)

Short-earred Owl (courtesy USFWS)

Short-earred Owl (Asio flammeus)
uncommon to rare winter resident in Philadelphia area; yellow eyes; diurnal and nocturnal; nests in April or May: open nest on ground

Saw-whet Owl (courtesy USFWS)

Saw-whet Owl (courtesy USFWS)

Northern Saw-whet Owl  (Aegolius acadicus)
rare and irregularly winters in Philadelphia area; yellow eyes; nocturnal hunter; pairing in March

Rare in Philadelphia and SE Pennsylvania

Barred Owl (courtesy PA Game Commission)

Barred Owl (courtesy PA Game Commission)

Barred Owl (Strix varia)
absent from most of SE Pennsylvania and Philadelphia; uncommon resident in the rest of PA) dark-eyes; nocturnal; egg-laying in March or April; nest in tree cavity

Snowy Owl (courtesy USFWS)

Snowy Owl (courtesy USFWS)

Snowy Owl (Bubo Scandiacus)
rare in Philadelphia and SE Pennsylvania; common resident in northern polar regions; yellow eyes

Resources Used

Wildlife of the Mid-Atlantic: A Complete Reference Manual
by John H. Rappole

Birds Of Pennsylvania
by Haas and Burrows

A Field Guide to Bird Songs: Eastern and Central North America (Peterson Field Guides)

Check out the Audubon.org website for information on Owls.

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