They say an owl heard is as good as an owl seen. But, in Louisiana, there are a few exotic species that you can actually spot! These adorable raptors are famous for their striking hoots, but their jargons carry a myriad of sounds – barks, yelps, beak snaps, whistles, and more.
Owls make up the order Strigiformes and constitute beyond 200 species. Fairly nocturnal and solitary, an owl’s defining traits comprise of their big-sized broad head, upright posture, binaural hearing, razor-sharp vision, and stinging talons, just to name a few.
Louisiana’s forests and swamps make up for an excellent habitat for an extensive range of owl species. Luckily, some of these hooty creatures have even adapted themselves to fit in the suburban or urban landscape and recreational areas.
Whether you are a novice or an owl aficionado, there is one thing you must know – these wondrous species are fabulous assets to our communities, especially helping keep the rodent numbers down!
If you are looking for suitable information to meet these majestic creatures, gear up with your binoculars! Below is a list of 6 common species of owls in Louisiana with each of their specifics and a few fascinating facts to learn about them.
Great Horned Owl
Length – 18.1 – 24.8 inches
Weight – 32.1 – 88.2 oz
Wingspan – 39.8 – 57.1 inches
The Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) is the largest owl species in Louisiana, the third-largest across North America, and the fifth in the world. Named after its elongated, horn-like ear tufts, the appearance of this bird is somewhat intimidating but identical to the classic owl of storybooks. The most striking feature of this barrel-shaped species is its bright yellow eyes.
These owls are often described as “tiger owls” for their orange-red stripes and aggressive hunting customs. Many individuals also call them “hoot owls”, for their profound, warbling “hoot”. While they can easily adapt to any environment (backed by the fact that you can find them throughout North America), the swamps, as well as evergreen and deciduous forests in the state, are suitable habitats for these species.
A Great Horned Owl begins nestling during late winters, which is way ahead of most other owl species. So, make sure that you put up a nest box well before their arrival. These birds boast an incredibly varied diet that incorporates foodstuff like birds and skunks. You might even find them hunting for prey in broad daylight.
This species usually prefers areas with lesser to minimal human activity, but it is fairly likely for you to find them in developed areas as well. Mated birds usually hold permanent territories and mate perpetually. The crushing strength of their talon is nearly 300 pounds a square inch, mightier than a human’s hand. Therefore, a Great Horned Owl is often compared to the much greater Golden Eagle.
Length – 12.6 – 15.8 inches
Weight – 14.1 – 24.7 oz
Wingspan – 39.4 – 49.2 inches
Living up to its name, this medium-sized species fancies nesting in sheltered areas like old barns and chooses open spaces for hunting expeditions. Barn Owls (Tyto alba) glide South during winters, and Louisiana is pretty much a significant part of their year-round habitat. Although these birds possess an astounding degree of low-light vision, yet scientific tests imply that they are equally capable of hunting by sound.
Their female counterparts are identified with a much higher amount of spots on their bellies. They are also known to be more insusceptible to diseases and parasites than males, who carry lesser spots.
Owls in this species have elongated, rounded wings and stubby tails. United with a buoyant flight, these traits offer them a distinguishing flight style. Their legs are quite long, and the head is evenly rounded.
Barn Owls are pale-bodied and have dark eyes. These birds feature a blend of buff and gray on the back, head, upper wings, and a white face, body, and underwings. However, when spotted at night, they can appear pearl white.
These creatures roost and nest in abandoned barns, quiet cavities, and dense trees. During the nighttime, Barn Owls catch prey by flying low across open landscapes, looking for tiny rodents. Also, a large area of open land is a prerequisite to hunting for these owls. It can be anything – a grassland, agricultural field, or marsh.
Length – 7.5 – 9.8 inches
Weight – 5.3 oz
Wingspan – 21.6 inches
Burrowing Owls are a small species with elongated legs and shorter tails. They have a rounded head and do not carry ear tufts. These birds are known to use old burrows of ground squirrels or prairie dogs to nest. Although they often favor a land farther West, they occasionally fly to southern Louisiana, especially during winters.
A Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) spends most of its time on low perches and grounds. Insects and small mammals make up a prominent part of its diet. These birds exhibit their best activities, including hunting during the day, especially when they are breeding. Usually, they catch prey in midair and sometimes, even close to the land. When alarmed, owls in this species wiggle their bodies up and down.
An adult Burrowing Owl is mottled with sandy-pale specks on its upper body. It bears a white throat, eyebrows, and yellowish eyes. The breast of these birds is spotted as well, with dark brown bands on their bellies. The juveniles fall towards a browner body and are less mottled than the adults. They are characterized by their buffy-yellow underbodies.
It is highly likely for you to locate these birds in open habitats with scanty vegetation. These areas include deserts, pastures, and airports. The cowboy fraternity has named this species “howdy birds,” owing to their unique way of greeting others by nodding at the entrances of their burrows!
Eastern Screech Owl
Length – 6.3 – 9.8 inches
Weight – 4.3 – 8.6 oz
Wingspan – 18.9 – 24.0 inches
The same size as that of a robin, an Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) enjoys wooded landscapes and is a yearlong inhabitant of Louisiana. This species is accustomed to suburban parks with numerous trees for nesting while preferring open grounds for hunting.
You can easily identify these owls, owing to their stocky size with a large head and nearly no neck. They bear a pair of rounded wings with a short, squared tail. Their sharpened ear tufts are usually raised, offering their head an exclusive silhouette.
Eastern Screech Owls fall into two color categories – reddish-brown and grey. Whatever their overall color is, they are brimmed with complex stripes and spots that offer them amazing camouflaging capabilities against trees.
Extending to their customary diet comprising of minuscule rodents, this species also feeds on bats, lizards, crayfish, and frogs. They are active at nighttime and are more heard than seen. Going by what most bird watchers say, they know this species only from its whinnying or trilling hoots. Still, it can be drawn to nest boxes or spotted in broad daylight at the entrance of a tree cavity, provided you own a pair of sharp eyes.
Tree shades, farm groves, and woodlands are the choicest habitats of Eastern Screech Owls. They prefer mixed or deciduous woods, but ofttimes, you can locate them in any area with open grounds and huge trees. It’s important to know that this species typically shuns treeless stretches of plains or mountains.
Northern Saw-Whet Owl
Length – 7.1 – 8.3 inches
Weight – 2.3 – 5.3 oz
Wingspan – 16.5 – 18.9 iinches
Although Northern Saw-Whet Owls (Aegolius acadicus) dwell as far south of Louisiana in winters, they are not the most prevalent ones among the lot. They are characterized by their affection for forests and hunt every night. Many birders who stroll through conifer groves find this round-headed species perched there, resting so still as if trying to avoid spectators.
Late at nights during the breeding time, males yield a rhythmic song that goes on for hours without a break. This species was named so for this song, which evoked the sound of a whetstone filing a saw.
Another interesting fact about these owls is that unlike their other friends, they prefer feasting on adult mice in pieces, covering prey over the course of two meals. They are brown and mottled with a whitish facial disk and head. On the other hand, the juveniles possess a dark brown body with creamy yellow bellies and breasts.
A Northern Saw-Whet Owl is hard to track down, basically nocturnal. Also, in the daylight, it roosts just above the eye level in dense vegetation. They are small in size, but their huge, rounded heads lacking ear tufts make up for their petite frames.
Length – 16.9 – 19.7 inches
Weight – 16.6 – 37.0 oz
Wingspan – 39.0 – 43.3 inches
Barred Owls (Strix varia) are the ultimate swamp lovers and employ old forests to build their nests. They like making homes out of large, mature woodlands with water streams nearby. Simply put, Louisiana is a perfect place for them. They are extremely common in the state and don’t usually migrate or travel around much. Rather, they take up residence in a single setting for a long time.
The rich baritone hooting of this species is a signature sound across the Southern swamps where these birds often call each other back and forth. Bird-watchers even say that they vaguely sound like a monkey. They are at their best at night but don’t mind hunting in the daylight and produce an instantly recognizable “Who cooks for you?” cry.
Only a tad bit tinier than the Great Horned Owl, these creatures are notably less vigorous. They are pretty competitive in terms of big-game hunting and are often attacked by their tough cousin.
A Barred Owl is mottled brown and white throughout its body and features brown, almost black eyes. Its underparts are checked with vertical brown stripes over a white background, while the upper body is converged with identical horizontal bars.
Final Takeaways – Where To Find Owls In Louisiana?
Not just for cultures, Louisiana is also a true “melting pot” for various species of owls. It brims with great parks and other wild expanses for bird-watchers to visit. There are several birding trails that cover every area of the state, ranging from Mississippi River and Red River trails to wetland trails by the Gulf coast.
Louisiana also encompasses multiple State Parks that offer a plethora of wildlife viewing. Luckily, some of these establishments even feature special programs if you happen to be an avid owl-watcher! Additionally, exploring local organizations like the Orleans Audubon Society and the Baton Rouge Audubon Society are some wonderful places to find the aforementioned species of owls.
Pro tip – if you live at a place that might be a good home to any of these owls, consider setting a nesting box and be a reliable steward to your wise pals!