Owls of Canada

World Owl Species: 151 Owls of Canada Species: 16

Barn Owl Tyto alba Size: 35–50 cm (14″–20″), Wingspan to 1.1 m (42″), Weight 460 gr (1 lb) Nest: Coastal British Columbia south of Vancouver, southern Ontario

  • Crow-sized owl with white, heart shaped face, dark eyes and long legs
  • Rusty brown above, white or light below with fine, dark dots
  • Darkest birds are always females, palest birds are males
  • The most widely distributed owl in the world
  • Mice make up 75% of their diet
  • Strictly nocturnal, roosting during the day in cavities or farm buildings
  • Pairs mate for life
  • Voice is a long, hissing shriek
  • Do not build a nest, but lay 5-10 white eggs directly on floor of cave, cavity or building rafter
  • If food is scarce they lay fewer eggs, or don’t breed at all
  • When being fed, young birds utter a hissing note like the sound of escaping steam
  • Lifespan up to 17 years
  • Endangered due to loss of habitat, lack of nesting sites

Barred Owl Strix varia Size: 42–60 cm (17″–24″), Wingspan to 1.2 m (50″), Weight 720 gr (1.6 lb) Nest: British Columbia, northern Alberta, Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba through to the Maritimes Gray brown overall with cross barred neck and breast; streaked belly and dark eyes

  • Does not have ear tufts
  • Also called ‘hoot owl’ or ‘black-eyed owl’
  • Active day or night
  • Uncommon to rare in low, wet woods or dense mixed coniferous forests
  • Can hear the squeak of a mouse from 46 m (150 ft) away
  • Frequently drink water and bathe in open water even in winter
  • Said to wade into water to catch fish
  • Voice is a strong hoo hoo ho-ho
  • Use the same nest site annually; both sexes incubate eggs
  • Two to four white eggs laid in existing tree cavity
  • Lifespan up to 23 years

Boreal Owl Aegolius funereus Size: 20–30 cm (8″–12″), Wingspan to 0.5 m (21″), Weight 135 gr (4.7 oz) Nest: British Columbia and across northern Canada Also called ‘Richardson’s owl’ or ‘Sparrow Owl’

  • Brown with white spots above and rust streaked breast
  • Heavily spotted forehead and yellow bill
  • Dark ‘V’ pattern on the face creates an angry expression
  • Whiteish facial disc has black border
  • Does not have ear tufts
  • Uncommon to rare in boreal coniferous or mixed forests and muskeg
  • Strongly nocturnal, roosting in thick cover during the day
  • Virtually fearless of man
  • Eskimos thought their ease of capture was because they couldn’t see in daylight
  • Dependent on old woodpecker holes for nesting
  • Preys on small rodents, birds and insects
  • Four to six white eggs laid in existing tree cavity
  • Sometimes shelters in abandoned igloos in the Arctic or barns during severe weather
  • Lifespan up to 15 years

176px-Burrowing_Owl_4354Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia Size: 23–27 cm (9″–11″), Wingspan to 60 cm (24″), Weight 155 gr (5 oz) Nest: Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan

  • A robin sized, ground dwelling owl with long legs, a short tail and yellow eyes; no ear tufts
  • Face is framed in white with a blackish collar
  • Uncommon, found only in grasslands or agricultural fields
  • Nocturnal but often seen perched on fence posts or farm machinery during the day
  • Voice is a high, trumpeting coo coooo
  • Eat small rodents and insects, particularly grasshoppers
  • Flight is low and undulating, often hovering close to the ground
  • Nest and roost in underground burrows lined with grass, roots and animal dung, laying 7-10 white eggs
  • Live in pairs or colonies in the abandoned burrows of prairie dogs or ground squirrels
  • Have the largest clutches of any North American owl, occasionally up to 12 chicks
  • Do not share a burrow with rattlesnakes; the defensive sound made by the young mimics the rattle
  • Flight speed up to 19 kmh (12 mph)
  • Lifespan up to 11 years
  • Endangered due to habitat loss and the use of pesticides on their insect prey

Flammulated Owl Otus flammeolus Size: 15–17 cm (6″–7″), Wingspan to 0.4 m (16″), Weight 60 gr (2.1 oz) Nest: British Columbia

  • A small owl slightly larger than a sparrow
  • Have small, indistinct ear tufts, reddish edges on the facial disk
  • Variegated red and/or grey plumage; light below with white and rust coloured markings
  • The only small North American owl with dark eyes
  • Uncommon and difficult to find in in coniferous woodlands and forest edges
  • Nocturnal, roosting during the day in tree cavities, often those previously used by woodpeckers
  • Nest in tree cavities, laying 3 or 4 white eggs
  • Voice is a low, soft poot or podo podo repeated every few seconds
  • Forages for insects at night and roosts in tree cavities during the day
  • Eat primarily insects captured with their feet

Great Grey Owl Strix nebulosa Size: 60–82 cm (24″–33″), Wingspan to 1.3 m (52″), Weight 1,080 gr (2.4 lbs) Nest: Yukon, Northwest Territories and British Columbia to Ontario

  • Canada’s largest owl, and look much heavier than they are
  • Very fluffy with a long tail and large head with yellow eyes, no ear tufts
  • Plumage is grey with dark, smudgy markings; black chin spot bordered by white patches like a bow tie
  • Large, heavily ringed facial disc makes the eyes look small
  • Smaller eyes than most are an adaptation to diurnal hunting
  • Voice is a series of up to 10 deep, muffled hoots
  • Hunt for small mammals at night, or at dusk and dawn and can be active during the day
  • Do not build nests but will enlarge an old one
  • Lay 2 to 5 white eggs in a bulky stick nest located in dense conifers
  • Do not migrate, but will irrupt into hunting areas with high rodent population cycles
  • A very secretive bird, discovered by Europeans in America before they realized it also lives in Europe
  • Provincial bird of Manitoba

Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus Size: 45–62 cm (18″–25″), Wingspan to 1.1 m (44″), Weight 1,400 gr (3.1 lbs) Nest: Canada wide

  • Broad head has prominent, wide spaced ear tufts
  • Grayish or brownish above, mottled and streaked underneath, tawny orange facial disc with white throat
  • Color is variable, ranging from nearly white in the Arctic to dark brown and grey in the south
  • Voice is a series of deep muffled ho hoo hoo hoododo
  • Active day or night; called the `winged tiger’ for their hunting ability
  • Take medium sized prey such as rabbits, skunks, grouse
  • Use a regular feeding post near the nest, where they bring prey to be torn up and eaten
  • Have attacked people wearing fur hats, mistaking them for prey
  • Does not migrate
  • One of the first species to breed each winter, so the young are old enough to hunt returning species
  • Do not breed until two years of age
  • Nest in stick nests in trees, in caves, or on the ground, laying 2 or 3 white eggs
  • Provincial bird of Alberta
  • Flight speed 64 kmh (40 mph)
  • Lifespan up to 29 years

Long-eared Owl Asio otus Size: 32–40 cm (13″–16″), Wingspan to 1 m (36″), Weight 260 gr (9 oz) Nest: Across southern Canada

  • Nearly crow sized, with long ear tufts set close together
  • Heavily streaked and barred on the belly; rusty facial disc
  • Long black `ears’ are actually feather tufts which are flattened against the head in flight
  • Usually solitary; a few may roost together in winter but they are so silent they are seldom seen
  • The most secretive owl species, strictly nocturnal
  • Inhabit dense deciduous and coniferous forests
  • Pretend to be wounded to lure intruders away from the nest
  • If disturbed on their roost, they raise ear tufts and compress feathers, looking like the stub of a tree limb
  • Hunt small mammals at night, and roost next to tree trunks during the day
  • Voice is a soft, low wooip every few seconds
  • Generally silent except for breeding season
  • Four or five white eggs laid in a stick nest
  • Lifespan up to 27 years

Northern Hawk Owl Surnia ulula Size: 35–42 cm (14″–17″), Wingspan to 0.7 m (28″), Weight 320 gr (11 oz) Nest: Across northern and central Canada

  • Black bordered facial disc, underparts cross barred with dark brown, long tail, no ear tufts
  • Found in open spruce woods and near bogs
  • Perch on tree tops or poles to watch for small mammals
  • Hawk-like posture and flight give them their name
  • Often hovers over open ground
  • Inhabit boreal and coniferous forests and muskeg
  • More active during the day than other forest owls
  • Very tame, and can be approached closely
  • Voice is a series of popping popopopopopo
  • Have been seen following farmers loading hay bales onto wagons and pouncing on uncovered mice
  • Basically non-migratory but will retreat from northern-most part of range in winter
  • Eat small mammals, birds and insects
  • Lay 3 to 7 white eggs in the hollow tops of spruce trees, tree cavities or abandoned stick nests

Northern Pygmy Owl Glaucididium gnoma Size: 17–20 cm (7″–8″), Wingspan to 0.3 m (12″), Weight 70 gr (2.5 oz) Nest: Southern British Columbia and Alberta

  • A sparrow sized owl with a small round head
  • Plumage is dark brown with pale bars, dark streaks and a spotted crown
  • Dark head has white ‘eyebrow’ over the eyes
  • Long tail is often moved or cocked sideways when perched
  • Have two black spots on the back of the neck that look like eyes
  • No soft wing feathers to muffle the sound of flight; rely on speed and agility instead of surprise·
  • Inhabit areas of open coniferous or mixed deciduous forest
  • Have a ferocity and strength out of proportion for their size, which is about that of a bluebird
  • Voice is a series of toots repeated every few seconds
  • Perch in trees to hunt for small birds
  • Mainly nocturnal, but will hunt during the day
  • Lay 3 to 6 white eggs in an existing tree cavity

Northern Saw-whet Owl Aegolius acadicus Size: 17–20 cm (7″–8″), Wingspan to 0.4 m (17″), Weight 80 gr (2.8 oz) Nest: Across southern and central Canada

  • The smallest northern owl
  • Also called ‘Sparrow Owl’
  • Large head has a prominent white ‘V’ on the face, and whiteish streaks
  • Fluffy plumage is reddish brown above with reddish streaks on a lighter belly, and a reddish facial disc
  • Yellow eyes, dark bill and no ear tufts
  • Found in mixed coniferous and deciduous forests
  • Active at night and roosts in dense trees during the day
  • Usual food is insects but occasionally take small rodents or birds
  • Voice is a series of low toit toit whistled toots
  • Name comes from their two note call
  • Remarkably tame owls and nearly fearless of man
  • Lay 5 or 6 white eggs in an existing tree cavity
  • Lifespan up to 17 years

Photo © Greg Hume

Western Otus kenicottii Nest: British Columbia Eastern Otus asio Nest: Southern Saskatchewan through to Quebec Size: 17–25 cm (7″–10″), Wingspan to 0.5 m (20″), Weight 180 gr (6 oz)

  • Plumage variable; brownish red to gray
  • Small and stocky; a large head, broad wings and short tail
  • Ear tufts prominent when raised, and they have a flat headed look when tufts are down
  • Strictly nocturnal, foraging at night for insects and rodents
  • Usually solitary
  • Roost in tree cavities during the day
  • Nest in tree cavities, laying 3-8 white eggs
  • Uncommon but widespread in forests, swamps, parks
  • Voice is a series of shot pwep pwep pwep whistles
  • Call is really a soft, mournful whinny that aroused fear and suspicion among early settlers
  • Lifespan up to 13 years


Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus Size: 32–42 cm (13″–17″), Wingspan to 1 m (38″), Weight 350 gr (12 oz) Nest: Across Canada in grassland areas

  • Crow sized and slender, with barely visible ear tufts
  • Crow sized and slender, with barely visible ear tufts
  • Pale tawny brown overall with a heavily streaked underside and a dark triangle around each eye
  • Long-winged owl of open country, marshes and tundra
  • Have a high pitched, rasping call like the bark of a small dog
  • Voice is a muffled poo poo poo in a quick series
  • Fly low over the ground and hover briefly before swooping down
  • Roost on the ground, occasionally in large groups
  • Gregarious in winter and may gather where prey is abundant
  • Less nocturnal than other owls and often seen in daylight
  • Eat rodents and small mammals
  • Adults will perform `crippled bird’ act to lure intruders from nest
  • Live in the grasslands of every continent except Australia
  • Flight speed 42 kmh (26 mph)
  • Suffers from loss of natural habitat conversion to agriculture
  • Listed as a species of Special Concern on COSEWIC

Snowy Owl Nyctea scandiaca Size: 50–67 cm (20″–27″), Wingspan to 1.3 m (52″), Weight 1,830 gr (4 lbs) Nest: Open Arctic tundra

  • Mostly white in all plumages; first year birds have dark barring on the body and head; yellow eye
  • Dark bars and spots heaviest on juveniles and females; old males may be pure white
  • Winters in open fields in southern Canada and northern USA, perching on fence posts or poles
  • Canada’s heaviest owl
  • Completely encased in feathers from their toes and foot pads to the tip of their beak
  • Most active at night, hunting small rodents and birds
  • Require very large territories, up to 10 sq km (4 sq mi) due to the scarcity of prey on the tundra
  • Hoots can be heard more than 3 km (2 mi) away
  • Has the most northerly distribution of any owl
  • Lemming population determines the number of eggs; if rodents are abundant up to 13 can be laid
  • Nest in a shallow ground depression lined with feathers
  • Flight speed 80 kmh (50 mph)
  • Provincial bird of Quebec
  • Lifespan up to 14 years

Spotted Owl Strix occidentalis Size: 40–47 cm (16″–19″), Wingspan to 1.1 m (40″), Weight 610 gr (1.3 lb) Nest: Southwestern British Columbia

  • Large, rounded headed owl with white spotting on head, back and underparts; dark eyes
  • Found in canyons and humid forests of coniferous trees
  • Strictly nocturnal, and seldom seen because of their retiring habits during the day
  • One of their calls is similar to that of a baying hound
  • Voice is a strong, rhythmic hooting whup hoo hoo hoooo
  • Pairs mate for life
  • Lay 2-3 white eggs on the bare floor of a tree cavity
  • Mates occupy a home range of 1,000 ha (2,500 acres)
  • Hybridizes with barred owl where ranges overlap
  • Prey on small rodents, birds and insects
  • Decreasing in numbers and range where they can be found
  • Very endangered due to loss of first growth forest habitat

All photos from Wikipedia unless otherwise noted.

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