Pennsylvania is well-known in the United States for its historical significance. It’s the state where the Declaration of Independence signing took place, and it’s where history lovers can find the Liberty Bell.
However, as you explore the 129,475,47 acres of Pennsylvania, you might spot something else the state is known for; owls.
Nine different species of owls are native to Pennsylvania. Six of the nine species are year-long residents. The remaining breeds are only in Pennsylvania during the winter as a result of irruption.
Pennsylvania has 121 state parks and 19 national parks with a wide variety of habitats, all perfect for owl watching. We’ve compiled a list of all nine owl species you may come across while in Pennsylvania. Let’s dive right in!
The Barn Owl
- Scientific Name: Tyto furcata
- Length: 12.6 – 15.7 inches
- Weight: 15 – 22 ounces
- Wingspan: 42.1 – 43.5 inches
Barn owls are permanent residents of Pennsylvania and 48 other states. Their choice of habitat is usually open grassland areas and in the southern regions of the state.
The Barn owl, also known as the Monkey-Faced owl, is more active during March and April, which is its breeding season, making sightings more frequent during this time. It has a life expectancy of up to four years, and its diet consists of mice, shrews, and voles.
Barn owls have pale brown feathers with buff tips. Their bellies are covered in white feathers. In the right lighting, they may appear to be completely white.
Great Horned Owl
- Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
- Length: 18 – 25 inches
- Weight: 49 – 55 ounces
- Wingspan: Approximately 55 inches
The Great Horned owl has a very different diet from the Barn owl. This powerful bird feeds on larger prey, including squirrels, rabbits, and skunks.
Despite its name, this owl doesn’t have horns but rather long pointed ear tufts. It gained its name because the silhouette of the ears can look like horns.
The owls’ habitat consists of coniferous and mixed woodlands, but they’re found all over Pennsylvania. Like the Barn owl, they’re permanent residents of the state. However, they’re most active in the early winter. The Great Horned owl is very territorial. During nesting season it protects its territory and eggs by hooting vigorously, giving that classic sound often heard in the movies
- Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
- Length: 13 –17 inches
- Weight: 7.3 – 17 ounces
- Wingspan: 33 – 43.5 inches
Short-Eared owls have earned their name due to their extremely small ear tufts that are difficult to see. They have brown feathers with buff spots, and they’re relatively easy to identify.
They have a life expectancy of 4–12 years and a diet consisting of voles, mice, and squirrels. Additionally, the short-eared owls preferred nest site is mainly open grasslands.
They’re active at all hours (day and night) during their mating season. In the morning, they perform courting rituals, and during the nighttime, they hunt. Their activity makes it easier for birdwatchers to spot them.
In northern Pennsylvania, the endangered Short-Eared owl is a permanent resident. However, it is only seen in southern regions of the state outside of breeding season.
- Scientific Name: Asio otus
- Length: 14 – 16 inches
- Weight: 9 ounces
- Wingspan: 35.5 – 39 inches
Unlike Short-Eared owls, Long-Eared owls have long, pointed tufts of feathers over their ears that make them easy to identify. Their bodies are stout and covered in dark feathers, and they have orange faces.
The Long-Eared owls have loosely structured colonies made up of hundreds of owls. This number decreases slightly during the mating season. However, even during this time, the owls will roost within 50 feet of each other. The preferred habitat of both the Long-Eared and Short-Eared owl is open grasslands and coniferous woodlands. Due to the large colonies, the larger the area they can find, the better.
These owls have a lifespan of around four years. Their diet consists of small mammals, mice, rats, and rabbits.
Their behavior and migratory patterns mean that they can’t be found in Pennsylvania during their breeding season. While there have been sightings all over the state, the highest number of sightings occurs in the northwest region of the state. The owls are less common in central Pennsylvania.
Northern Hawk Owl
- Scientific Name: Surnia ulula
- Length: 14 – 18 inches
- Weight: 11 – 12 ounces
- Wingspan: 18 inches
The Northern Hawk owl has brown and white striped feathers covering its underbelly. Meanwhile, its back is covered in dark grey and black feathers.
This beautiful animal has a life expectancy of 16 years. Its favorite prey animals are rodents and small mammals.
Much like the Great Horned owl, the Northern Hawk Owl inhabits coniferous or mixed woodlands, especially those near swamp areas. Usually, Northern Hawk owls lead solitary lives with the exception of breeding seasons.
They’re aggressive when specific species (including humans) encroach on their territory. However, despite their solitary nature, they show no signs of aggression when others of the same species pass through their territory and nest nearby.
This species of bird is only a winter visitor in Pennsylvania. They’re usually spotted in the northern parts of the state.
Northern Saw-Whet Owl
- Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
- Length: 7 – 9 inches
- Weight: 4 ounces
- Wingspan: 16 – 24 inches
The big round head, wide orange eyes, and small size of this variety of bird are what it’s known for. It also has brown feathers covering its wings and back, and contrasting bright white underbellies.
This owl lives for up to seven years and has a diet that consists of small birds, young squirrels, voles, and shrews.
Furthermore, the Northern Saw-whet owl requires dense forests, especially during mating seasons. These owls are full-time residents of Pennsylvania but usually remain in the northwest. They can be seen in other areas when it isn’t breeding season.
Due to their small size, Saw-whets are susceptible to predators. Some of their predators include larger owl species like the Great Horned owl.
Eastern Screech Owl
- Scientific Name: Megascops asio
- Length: 6 – 10 inches
- Weight: 5.6 ounces
- Wingspan: 18 – 24 inches
The Eastern Screech-owl is easy to identify due to its unique pattern of grey feathers and sharp ear tufts. The pattern of its feathers allows it to be camouflaged amongst the trees.
This owl species has a life expectancy of 14 years. They eat rats, squirrels, rabbits, and skunks. Their native habitat is an area with dense trees. However, they’ve also successfully nested and bred in suburban areas and have even been known to use a nest box.
Eastern Screeches are permanent residents of Pennsylvania and appear to be distributed evenly all over the state.
- Scientific Name: Strix varia
- Length: 19 – 20 inches
- Weight: 16.5 – 40.6 ounces
- Wingspan: 38 – 49 inches
The Barred owl is easily distinguishable due to its unique brown and white bar-patterned feathers. This feature is where the species gets its name.
The owl has a life expectancy of 10 – 23 years. It feasts mainly on small mammals, but it’s also known to prey on small birds like woodpeckers, which are also native to Pennsylvania.
The Barred owl is usually found nesting in areas close to bodies of water. It also favors locations with a variety of woodlands. This means you can spot it near swamps and coastlines.
Barred owls are nocturnal and hunt at night. They’re also prey for the Great Horned owl, like many other small species.
Like the Northern Hawk owl, this species is known to be aggressive towards humans who get too close to their nests.
Barred owls are permanent residents of Pennsylvania and can be spotted year-round. Their call is a common sound in the night. However, sightings are more common in the western region of the state near the Ohio border.
- Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
- Length: 25 – 29 inches
- Weight: 70.5 ounces
- Wingspan: 59 inches
The Snowy owl, as the name suggests, has a snow-like appearance due to its white plumage. These white feathers are useful because the owls are usually located in the tundra habitat during the winter months. Therefore, the white features allow them to camouflage well and make them one of the most appealing birds to watch in North America.
The species has a 10-year life expectancy. It feasts on birds, rabbits, fish, and rodents, and an occasional larger animal.
The snowy owl can be incredibly aggressive, especially when defending its territory. These owls have been known to dive at arctic wolves or humans that stray near their nesting area. Seeing one during daylight hours is a real treat, but take care not to come too close to one of them.
In conclusion, many different bird species can be found in Pennsylvania, including owls and hawks.
The state has a total of nine different owl species, with a wide range of lifespan, diet, nesting areas, and size. Some may have similar behavior or physical characteristics, but telling them apart shouldn’t be too difficult.
Birdwatchers should be wary with some species—like the Northern Hawk and Barred owl—as they can be aggressive towards humans that get too close to their roosting area.
You can spot some birds year-round. However, other species are only found in the state during specific times.
If you’re planning on visiting Pennsylvania to spot a specific species, make sure to pick the date of your trip according to its migration schedule.