Owls In West Virginia: 9 Species To Watch Out For!

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With tourism as its leading industry, it’s no wonder that people flock from all over North America to West Virginia. Many species of birds also love West Virginia for its magical mountain topography and dense foliage. 

Nine types of owls call West Virginia home. From the majestic Snowy Owl to the everyday Barn Owl, the variety of species is worth the trip to the Eastern mountainous state.

To that end, let us walk you through the nine must-see owls in West Virginia.

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl

  •     Scientific name: Surnia ulula
  •     Length: 14.2 – 17.6 in
  •     Weight: 11 – 12 oz
  •     Wingspan: 35 – 50 in

Chubby as it is, this owl is an early bird. Not hunting at night or in the twilight, the Northern Hawk Owl thrives in the daylight. It’s the last living member of its genus, Surnia.

Unsurprisingly, the Northern Hawk Owl prefers living in the mountains—you can understand the appeal this owl saw in West Virginia. Why the mountains? Because they provide the owl with all the perches it needs for settling and open areas for hunting.

Dark-chocolate and white-spotted, the feathers of the Northern Hawk Owl are compact compared to other species. The owl also has creamy white feathers on its chest and belly. Dark chocolate and creamy white? I can see where the chubbiness came from!

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

  •     Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
  •     Length: 20.7 – 28 in
  •     Weight: 52 – 85 oz
  •     Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 inches

With a unique all-white appearance, Snowy Owls are a sight like no other. Despite being predominantly white, Snowy Owls have a couple of dark streaks and a striking yellow eye. Their habitat matches their color: they live in cold, snowy areas, including the Arctic.

Living in cold areas is a breeze for these beautiful animals, given the thick plumage that helps Snowy Owls adjust to such low temperatures. These white birds are quite the eaters: They feast on lemmings in the summer and larger animals in the winter.

How much Snowy Owls reproduce is directly related to how much they eat. When food is abundant during the breeding season, the female owl lays up to 11 eggs. When food is scarce, however, these owls can ditch reproduction altogether.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

  •     Scientific name: Strix varia
  •     Length: 16 – 25 in
  •     Weight: 27.2 – 40 oz
  •     Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 inches

The Barred Owl can’t seem to pick either day or night for its hunting. So, it does most of the hunting in between: during dusks and dawns. Although the Barred Owl eats many creatures, from aquatic ones to small mammals and birds, it’s still a bit of a wuss.

Though only a little smaller, the Barred Owl flees when confronted by the Great Horned Owl. Fleeing its territory so often keeps the Barred Owl locked out of open areas, where nature provides food generously.

Not into fighting, Barred Owls are all about nesting and building a family. The female owl stays with its offspring most of the time, with the male taking on the job of bringing food, like a fat deer mouse, to the nest. Perhaps because their species is so used to running from bigger birds, their young are capable of flying at the age of six weeks.

The Barred Owl is mottled brown and white overall, with vertical bars on its underparts and horizontal stripes on its breast.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

  •     Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
  •     Length: 17-25 inches
  •     Weight: 43 – 56.7 oz
  •     Wingspan: 39.8- 57.1 inches

Besides spending their time pushing around Barred Owls, Great Horned Owls are also a threat to humans. With its clutching force as strong as a large dog’s bite, the Great-Horned Owl has reportedly attacked unsuspecting humans many times before.

Great Horned Owls attack when they perceive a threat to their territories, mates, or offspring. Surprisingly, its favorite victim, the Barred Owl, has also been recorded attacking humans!

Great Horned Owls don’t shy away from battling large animals. Their fighting strategy? They go for the face and head using their forceful clutch.

On a more cheerful note, it has beautifully mottled brown feathers which help the Great Horned Owl in its territorial struggle by providing it with good camouflage. 

Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl

  •     Scientific name: Megascops asio
  •     Length: 6.5 – 10 in
  •     Weight: 4.25 – 8.6 oz
  •     Wingspan: 18.9-24.0 inches

Thanks to its reddish-brown feathers which closely resemble the color of tree bark, the Eastern Screech-owl is well-camouflaged. Therefore, it’s unlikely that you’ll get a clear sighting of one of these elusive animals. This doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to tell if it’s nearby, though.

You can tell an Eastern Screech-owl is present not only by the sounds it makes but also by the sounds other birds make when it shows up in the area.

Eastern Screech-owls are notorious for feasting on a wide variety of birds. Even bats, which are scientifically classified as birds, fall prey to this owl. So, whenever a bird spots the owl, it makes a fuss to warn other birds.

The reason other birds are wary of Eastern Screech-owls is the intense territorial instinct these owls have. Even humans that unwittingly pass near this owl’s nest can be subjected to one of its attacks.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

  •     Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
  •     Length: 6.7 – 8.7 in
  •     Weight: 1.9 – 5.3 oz
  •     Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 inches

If you see a very small reddish-brown owl with white streaks, you can say that you saw a Northern Saw-whet Owl. How small is it? This owl is the size of a songbird. 

The likelihood of encountering this owl is pretty high as it resides in many habitats. This bird lives in deciduous and coniferous forests alike. It also lives at lower elevations as much as it does in the mountains. 

While it rarely stays in one place, the Northern Saw-whet Owl is usually wedded to one partner at a time. However, the monogamy of these owls can sometimes be short-lived; in cases where food is abundant, monogamy goes out of the window.

Both male and female Northern Saw-whet Owls tend to stray from their mates. Once it produces offspring, the female leaves its young chicks so it can mate with another male elsewhere. That’s why Northern Saw-whet breeding pairs don’t stay together for longer than a summer.

Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl

  •     Scientific name: Asio flammeus
  •     Length: 13 – 17 in
  •     Weight: 7.3 – 16.8 oz
  •     Wingspan: 33 – 34 in

Contrary to its name and appearance, this owl doesn’t actually have human-like ears. What looks like ears are tufts of feathers on the sides of its head that resemble the ears of mammals.

Other owls can be considered opportunistic predators, eating whatever they find. However, Short-Eared Owls have food preferences that, in times of short supply, prompt them to leave the area altogether.

What’s this preferred diet of theirs? Short-Eared Owls eat voles and lemmings, along with some other small mammals. Such prey commonly exists in open lands, which is why this sometime grassland predator follows them there, leaving behind the forests where most owls live.

Programmed to see other birds either as predators or prey, Short-Eared Owls have a hard time hitting it off with mates, so much so that the males are unable to identify females unless they see them up close. A male always approaches a female Short-eared Owl bearing a gift (food) to persuade the female to not eat him. That’s one twisted relationship they have going on there!

Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl

  •     Scientific name: Asio otus
  •     Length: 12 – 16 in
  •     Weight: 10 – 11.5 oz
  •     Wingspan: 35.4-39.4 inches

Much like Short-Eared Owls, Long-Eared Owls also have visible ear tufts, only longer. These ear tufts are so long that they can be mistaken for horns; that’s why, upon spotting the Long-Eared Owl, you will swear that you saw the mighty Great-Horned Owl.

Ears aren’t the only thing that’s long on these owls; they also have broad wings. Their wings are so long that they overlap when the bird is perched. They also have pale black patches over their eyes, resembling eyebrows.

Living in the heart of the desert, they’re mostly found around whatever water they find, like in tree belts that run beside slim steams. Long-Eared Owls also live in wetlands and marshes.

Long-eared owls mate with one partner at a time, with the male attracting the female with a variety of hoots and air acrobatics.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

  •     Scientific name: Tyto alba
  •     Length: 13 – 15 in
  •     Weight: 7.9 – 25 oz
  •     Wingspan: 39.4-49.2 inches

This owl might spook you a little. Not only does it resemble a ghost with its whitish color, but its shriek is also haunting. Barn Owls aren’t all white, though; their back and upper wings are a combination of brownish-yellow and gray.

Another distinctive feature of Barn Owls is their heart-shaped faces. Far from being a love sign, this heart shape helps the owl in hunting. This white-faced silent nocturnal bird has a sense of hearing like no other, thanks to its heart-shaped face which channels high-frequency sound waves to its ears.

With such incredible hearing, these nocturnal predators hunt their prey by sound. These birds of prey can hover near the ground, sweeping the area with their ears on high alert. When it catches the sound of, for example, an adult mouse approaching, the next thing its target will know is the sharp talons of the Barn Owl grabbing hold of it.

As their name indicates, these nocturnal birds will nest relatively close to humans in just about any structure, quiet barns included.

Final Words

If you’ve ever seen yellow eyes glowing in the middle of the night, you’ve probably seen an owl. However, owls aren’t all nocturnal, nor are they always scary.

Some owls roam the skies in broad daylight. There’s also the Snowy Owl, with its magnificently white feathers that make it look more like a proverbial dove of peach than an owl.

Nevertheless, there are owls you should be wary of, like the Great-Horned Owl, an efficient hunter famous for its attacks on humans.

All in all, though, owls are a sighting to pack your bags and travel for. Considering that West Virginia also has woodpeckers, the destination of your next trip should already be set! 

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