Illinois Owls: 11 Species

Illinois has some of the most diverse and interesting bird species in the nation, including various owls. These majestic birds can be found throughout the state, patrolling wooded areas and hunting for prey at night. Illinois Owls can be found in several places throughout the state for those looking to get an up-close look at these fascinating creatures.

The first place to look for owls is in forest preserves near Chicago or Rockford. Here you’ll likely find Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls nesting among the dense foliage or swooping through the trees in search of small mammals and amphibians to eat. You may also run into Long-eared Owls around these areas, as they prefer more open woodlands with plenty of tall trees to hide in during the daytime hour.

Unique Species of Illinois Owls:

Illinois is home to 11 unique species of owls, many of which have adapted to the habitats and climates of their respective regions. These majestic nocturnal birds can be found in deciduous forests, grasslands, marshlands, and even urban environments across the state.

Eastern Screech-Owl:

Illinois Owls

Eastern Screech-Owls, a small species of Owl native to Illinois, are an essential part of the natural ecosystem in the state. These birds can be found in woodlands and forests throughout Illinois, where they feed on small rodents and insects. Their presence helps control these animals’ local populations, which would otherwise damage crops and carry diseases.

The Eastern Screech-Owl is easily identified by its distinctive call, which can be heard at night in the areas these owls inhabit. They have brown or gray feathers with white streaks running along their bodies and wings. The birds are known for their ability to blend into their surroundings as they hunt during the night hours. In addition to hunting, Eastern Screech-Owls also use cavities in trees or nest boxes as roosting sites during the daytime when they are inactive.


Scientific NameMegascopsasio
Length7-9.8 inches
Weight4.3-8.6 ounces
Wingspan19-24 inches

Great Horned Owl:

Illinois Owls

The Great Horned Owl is a magnificent creature found in Illinois and throughout the United States. These birds are easily identifiable due to their large size, distinctive “horns,” and orange eyes. They have long been admired by birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts alike due to their powerful hunting skills and beautiful plumage.

The Great Horned Owl can be found across Illinois in rural and urban areas, living in various habitats, including forests, swamps, grasslands, deserts, and more. They are most active at night but can also be seen during the day when they hunt for food or defend their territories from other owls. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals such as mice, rabbits, or squirrels, but they will also take larger prey like skunks or geese if given the opportunity.


Scientific NameBubo virginianus
Length17-25 inches
Weight32-88.2 ounces
Wingspan39.8-57 inches

Barred Owl:

Illinois Owls

The Barred Owl, known for its distinctive “who-cooks-for-you” call, is a common species of Owl found in Illinois. This majestic bird has many unique features that make it stand out from other owls in the area. Dark brown feathers surround its large eyes, and its wings are marked with bold white stripes. The Barred Owl can be found throughout Illinois but is most commonly seen in wooded areas near rivers and wetlands.

These adaptable birds feed on small rodents such as mice, voles, shrews, amphibians, reptiles, and insects. In addition to hunting their prey at night, they will also scavenge for food during the day. As nocturnal creatures, they perch with their back toward the sun during the day to help keep cool in hot weather. Barred Owls are common birds also found in Connecticut.


Scientific NameStrixvaria
Length17-19.7 inches
Weight16.6-37 ounces
Wingspan39-43.4 inches

Northern Saw-Whet Owl:

Illinois Owls

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl (NSWO) is a small, nocturnal owl in most North America. It can be seen during the Illinois migration season between October and April. During this time, they are often drawn to wooded areas near open fields, wetlands, and forests.

This species of Owl is only 8-9 inches long and weighs less than 5 ounces. They have a distinct white band on their neck, a cinnamon-colored face, and large yellow eyes. Although small, their call can be heard as far away as a mile!

The diet of NSWOs mainly consists of small rodents like mice or voles, which they hunt from perches. They also eat other birds, such as finches or sparrows, when available.


Scientific NameAegoliusacadicus
Length7-8.3 inches
Weight2.3-5.3 ounces
Wingspan16.6-19 inches

Barn Owl:

Illinois Owls

Barn owls are a species of Owl native to North America and can be found in the Midwestern state of Illinois. These majestic birds are easily recognizable by their heart-shaped face, white underbelly, and yellow eyes. Barn owls are essential to Illinois’ wildlife, providing natural pest control services to farmers and landowners.

In Illinois, barn owls have been spotted nesting in abandoned buildings, barns, and natural cavities in trees or cliffs. Although their diet consists mainly of small mammals such as mice and voles, they also hunt for other small animals like frogs or insects. To attract barn owls to your property, you can install nest boxes or provide a safe environment with plenty of food sources nearby.

Barn Owls often become beloved members of any community lucky enough to find them living in the area.


Scientific NameTyto alba
Length12.6-15.8 inches
Weight14-24.7 ounces
Wingspan39.4-49.2 inches

Snowy Owl:

Illinois Owls

Illinois is home to a unique and beautiful bird, the Snowy Owl. This white spotted Owl can often be seen perched atop snow-covered trees or along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. It is one of only two species of owls found in Illinois and has a special place in the hearts of many Illinoisans.

The Snowy Owl is an iconic symbol of Illinois’s winter season, as its white coloring stands out against the snow-filled backdrop. Though it usually migrates south during the coldest months, some Snowy Owls remain within the state year-round. Sightings have been reported across northern parts of Illinois for decades, making them a unique feature among nature enthusiasts and photographers alike.


Scientific NameBubo scandiaca
Length20.5-28 inches
Weight56.4-104 ounces
Wingspan49.6-57 inches

Long-Eared Owl:

Illinois Owls

The long-eared Owl (Asiootus) is a medium-sized bird of prey that makes its home in the woodlands and wetlands of Illinois. This majestic creature has been spotted throughout the state, from the shores of Lake Michigan to rural agricultural regions.

The long-eared Owl is most active during the night, hunting for small mammals like mice and voles with its keen hearing and sharp eyesight. When not hunting, it perches on tree branches or hides in dense vegetation, often blending into its surroundings with its mottled brown plumage. The Owl’s most distinctive feature is its long ear tufts which can be seen when it shifts on a branch or takes flight.


Scientific NameAsiootus
Length13.8-15.8 inches
Weight7.8-15.3 ounces
Wingspan35.4-39.4 inches

Short-Eared Owl:

Illinois Owls

The short-eared Owl is a unique species of Owl found throughout North America. It is known for its rounded head, big yellow eyes, and mottled feathers. In Illinois, the short-eared Owl can be seen in open grasslands or fields with scattered trees during certain times of the year.

The birds generally migrate through Illinois during their fall and spring migrations in October and March, respectively. During these months, they can be spotted hunting small rodents or other prey while soaring above the ground at dusk. They are also nocturnal creatures, so it’s best to look for them at night when they are most active.

Though it is not as commonly seen as some other species of owls in Illinois, spotting a short-eared owl can be an exciting experience for amateur birders and nature enthusiasts alike!


Scientific NameAsioflammeus
Length13.3-17 inches
Weight7.3-16.9 ounces
Wingspan33.5-43 inches

Burrowing Owl:

Illinois Owls

Burrowing Owls are a unique type of owl species that reside in Illinois. With large eyes, long legs, and beaks, these owls can be found living in open habitats. Their unique diet consists mainly of insects, small mammals, and reptiles.
The Burrowing Owl is considered an endangered species, with their numbers decreasing rapidly due to habitat destruction and degradation. They live in grasslands, agricultural areas near rivers or streams, shrubland areas, and other open habitats such as golf courses and parks. These owls create burrows where they lay eggs to protect against predators like skunks, foxes, and hawks.


Scientific NameAthenecunicularia
Length7.5-9.8 inches
Weight5.3 ounces
Wingspan21.6 inches

Northern Hawk Owl:

The Northern Hawk Owl is a captivating species of Owl that makes its home in Illinois. This unique bird, with its bright yellow eyes, white and brown speckled feathers, and long wingspan, makes it one of the most recognizable birds in the state. Native to boreal forests and tundra regions, this large Owl has adapted to living in more temperate climates.

In Illinois, the Northern Hawk Owl can be found primarily in the northern parts of the state near Wisconsin, with ample trees to roost during migration and breeding season. During winter, they may move further south into other parts of Illinois due to harsher temperatures up north.


Scientific NameSurniaolula
Length14.2-17.7 inches
Weight8.5-16 ounces
Wingspan28 inches

Boreal Owl:

Illinois Owls

Boreal owls are a species of Owl found in Illinois. The Boreal Owl is one of the smaller members of the Strigidae family, with a wingspan measuring approximately fifteen inches. This nocturnal bird is recognized by its gray-brown coloring and dark eyespots on its chest.

The boreal Owl typically inhabits dense coniferous forests but can also be found near rivers and lakes during winter when food becomes scarce. This species can be seen year-round in Illinois as it migrates from Canada to the Midwest region in search of food sources like small mammals or insects. Boreal owls prefer to nest in old tree cavities in Illinois and close their nests to the water where plenty of prey is available.


Scientific NameAegoliusfunereus
Length14.2-17.7 inches
Weight8.5-16 ounces
Wingspan28 inches


Illinois owls are a fascinating species integral to our state’s ecosystems. They are powerful and agile hunters but also play an essential role in controlling rodent populations. Whether you’re a birdwatcher or casual observer, take the time to admire these captivating creatures when you encounter them. The conservation of their habitats is paramount for preserving this species, so it’s essential to support efforts like habitat restoration and educational initiatives whenever possible.