7 Species of Owls in Missouri (with pictures)

Owls in Missouri

In the world of bird-watching, owls are one of the rarer sights. Being nocturnal birds, they spend their days cooped up in their nests, and venture out at night when any human interaction is least probable. But if you ever spot one of them flying over your backyard, how would you recognize them?

Do you have an idea of which owls reside in Missouri? If you don’t, you needn’t worry. In this article, we are going to make you familiar with all the seven species of owls who live in Missouri.


Barn Owl

Barn Owl - eBird

Scientific name – Tyto alba
Body length – 35-50 centimeters (14-20 inches)
Wingspan – 68-105 centimeters (27-41 inches)
Weight – about 220 to 710 grams
Lifespan – about 5-10 years

With their heart-shaped face, Barn Owls are one of the most adorable owl species in North America. These birds do not belong to the true owl family and are the lone species of their genus.

These birds have irregularly placed ears, with the left one slightly above and the right one slightly below the eyes. Because of their irregular ears, they have the strongest hearing capabilities among all owl species and can pinpoint the exact location of their prey.

While they are beautiful to look at, Barn Owls make a sound that would draw people away. They produce a long, drawn-out shriek that sounds somewhat like “shree”.

When they are happy, they produce a “kee-yak” sound that resembles the calling sound of the Tawny owls. To defend themselves from any danger, they make a snake-like hissing sound. The males produce a shrill twitter to court the females.

Barn Owls prefer to inhabit regions with water bodies close by in hopes of finding more food. They prey on mice, voles, rats, rabbits, reptiles, amphibians, bats, and other small birds.

These birds are also known for making their nests in tree holes, church belfries, and barns. Other names they called by are “Ghost Owls”, “Church Owls”, and “Monkey-faced Owls”.


Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech-Owl Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Scientific name – Megascops asio
Body length – 16-25 centimeters (6-9 inches)
Wingspan – 46-61 centimeters (18-24 inches)
Weight – 166 grams in males; 194 grams in females
Lifespan – 14 years in the wild; 20 years in captivity

The Eastern Screech Owls have densely populated most regions of North America. However, they are still not easy to spot. Wondering why? It is because of their body that is brilliantly colored to camouflage behind the trees.

These owls are also popular for having fake ear tufts; fake because unlike other owl species, their tufts are not just mere feathers but real ears. Moreover, they can even move these tufts in order to communicate with other owls.

Although the Eastern Screech Owls do not mind human interruption and can nest on top of buildings, street lamps, etc., they will never inhabit a region populated by the other owl species, especially the Great Horned Owls.

Being opportunistic feeders, these birds can feed on frogs, fish, crayfish, lizard, tadpole, earthworms, mice, and small birds.

Although they make a series of sounds, the most popular one is called a tremolo, which is similar to the sound of two frogs mating. They are strictly nocturnal, which is why you will usually hear their calling sounds at night.


Long-Eared Owl

Long-eared Owl Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Scientific name – Asio Otus
Body length – 31-40 centimeters (12-16 inches)
Wingspan – about 90-100 centimeters
Weight – about 250 grams
Lifespan – about 10-15 years

Although the Long-Eared Owls have been the inhabitants of Missouri for years, hardly a bunch of bird-watchers have been able to spot them due to their secretive nature.

These birds make their nest in the dense forests and have a body that can easily be camouflaged between the trees. If you want to spot them, you should pay attention to the sound they make.

They make a deep “whoop” sound, in addition to “jaiow” and “yip yip”, like cats. Their staple diet consists of small rodents, particularly voles. If they face a scarcity of food in their region, they can also eat smaller birds.

The Long-Eared Owls have long tuft atop their head, which is slightly shorter than the Great Horned Owls. This is why these owls are also called “Lesser Horned Owls”. Many zoologists compare the facial features of these birds to be like a cat, because of which they are also referred to as “Cat Owls”.

They are medium-sized birds, with the females slightly larger than their male counterparts. These birds have both individuals as well as regional coloration, ranging between creamy-yellow and black.

Their eyes are orangish-yellow, with a short, black bill. In Missouri, all the Long-Eared Owls are non-breeding birds. They’re highly social birds and roost together in large groups during the winter.


Short-Eared Owl

Short-eared Owl Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Scientific name – Asio flammeus
Body length – 34-43 centimeters (13-17 inches)
Wingspan – 85-110 centimeters (33-43 inches)
Weight – about 206-475 grams
Lifespan – 4 years in the wild; 10 years in captivity

The ears of the Short-Eared Owls are more like mammalian ears, which is why they are also referred to as “Eared Owls”. You can find their non-breeding population all over Missouri, but only some of them reside permanently in the northern part of the state.

These birds are not as strict a nocturnal as the other members of the true owl family and are often spotted in bright daylight. However, the ideal time to venture out of their nests is at dusk and dawn.

The Short-Eared Owls are floppy flyers. They have an irregular wingbeat, which makes them appear to be similar to a moth or a bat during flight. However, when they are hunting for food, these owls are careful and hover close to the ground.

They have a flame-colored body with a short neck, big head, and broad wings, and remarkably large eyes. Their eyes orange-yellow eyes with black eye-ring that looks like applied mascara. Their small ear tufts are not usually visible due to facial hair. But when they feel threatened and take a defensive stance, they show their ear tufts.

Short-Eared Owls make their nest on the grounds of savannahs, meadows, tundra, and prairies. In order to draw predators away from their eggs, the parent owls poop on them. They also begin to hop, pretending that they are crippled, to save themselves from predators.


Barred Owl

Barred Owl | Audubon Field Guide

Scientific name – Strix varia
Body length – 40-63 centimeters (16-25 inches)
Wingspan – 96-125 centimeters (38-49 inches)
Weight – between 470 grams and 1.2 kilograms
Lifespan – 10 years in the wild; 23 years in captivity

Native to eastern North America, the Barred Owls are also commonly referred to as “Hoot Owls”. These owls build their nests in thick deciduous forests so that they can sleep uninterruptedly throughout the day. They usually nest in natural hollows in the trees but are quick to grab the nest of another bird if they can.

Out of all the owl species, the Barred Owls are by far the drabbest in appearance. They have a rounded body with a head that seems too large for their body. They don’t have ear tufts, which makes them appear more rounded.

They are the only owl species in North America with dark eyes; the rest of the owls have yellow eyes. Their wingbeat is slow and direct with occasional long glides. Both sexes appear the same, with the females being larger than males.


Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Scientific name – Bubo virginianus
Body length – 46-63 centimeters (18-25 inches)
Wingspan – up to 145 centimeters (57 inches)
Weight – 1.6 kilograms for males; 1.2 kilograms for females
Lifespan – 13 years in the wild; 29 years in captivity

The Great Horned Owls are a large owl species native to the Americas. In Missouri, they are the largest owls you can find.

Highly adaptive in nature, these birds can inhabit regions with varying climatic conditions and are thus one of the most widespread owl species in America. They don’t mind humans and can live as comfortably in suburbia as in a dense forest.

Although they are called “Great-Horned”, these owls have no horns at all. In place of horns, they have long ear tufts known as plumicorns.

Due to the positioning of these plumicorns at the sides of their head, just where horns should be, they have been named so. The Great Horned Owls who live in the north are migratory and travel south during winters, while those who live elsewhere stay put in one place all year round.

Weighing more than 1 kilogram, these birds are the heaviest of all owls you can find in Missouri. The colors and patterns on their body are quite similar to that of a tiger, which is why they are also called “tiger owls”.


Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Scientific name – Aegolius acadicus
Body length – 17-22 centimeters (6-8 inches)
Wingspan – 42-56 centimeters (17-22 inches)
Weight – between 54-151 grams
Lifespan – 7 years in the wild; 16 years in captivity

The Northern Saw-Whet Owls have been named so because of the unique sound they make when they feel threatened. Whenever these birds feel alarmed, they make a sound similar to the sharpening or whetting of a saw. However, their calling sound is “toot toot toot”, used more extensively in the breeding season.

Northern Saw-Whet Owls are selectively migratory; some of them travel south during winters, while the others continue to live in their regular habitats.

These owls are among the smaller members of the true owl family, being about the size of the American Robins. In Missouri, you will not find an owl species smaller than them. Their size works both as an advantage and a disadvantage for them.

On the one hand, It helps them in staying covered and avoiding any disturbance, while on the other hand, it makes them prey to other raptors such as hawks, falcons, buzzards, harriers, etc. At times, other large owl species have also been predators of the Northern Saw-Whet Owls.

The Northern Saw-Whet Owls have a rounded face and two large, beady eyes with bright yellow irises and a dark cornea. Their beak is short and curves downwards, and most of it stays hidden behind their facial hair.

Their body is covered in a shade that ranges between pale brown and tan, with heavily-streaked wings and back and lightly-streaked underparts. Just as the Short-Eared Owls, they do not have ear tufts, which makes their face seem even rounder.


To sum it up

Apart from the seven owl species we talked about above, there is one more owl that you might witness in Missouri, but the chances of it are far too slim. We are talking about the Snowy owls (Bubo Scandiacus).

Although these owls are native to the arctic regions of North America, recently, they have been spotted in other parts of the continent, such as Missouri, as well. If you happen to see these birds flying overhead, you can recognize them instantly because of their distinctly snow-white appearance.