Owls in California (14 Must-See Species)

Owls in California are an interesting bird species found in nearly every corner of the state. Different owl species live in California, ranging from the tiny elf owl to the large great gray owl. Owls can be found in various habitats, including deserts, grasslands, and forests.

These nocturnal birds have unique adaptations that make them well-suited for life in California’s diverse ecosystems. Their keen eyesight and excellent hearing allow them to detect prey even on moonless nights. Additionally, their silent flight helps them stay hidden while they hunt. Owls also have powerful talons and hooked beaks that help tear into their food sources, such as rodents or amphibians.

Different types of Owls in California

Owls have been known and admired since ancient times, and in California, there is a wide variety of owl species to be found. From the tiny elf owl to the majestic great gray owl, these magnificent birds are welcome in many parts of the state. Here we will look at some of California’s different types of owls.

Barred Owl

Owls in California

The Barred Owl, a species of medium-sized owls native to North America, has been spotted in California for the first time in over two decades. The bird was seen this week in El Dorado County and is believed to be part of the species’ more significant migration movement.

This sighting is particularly noteworthy because Barred Owls are unknown to inhabit California or other western states. Generally found along the East Coast from southern Canada down through eastern Mexico, this owl’s presence on the West Coast marks a significant moment in birding history. Scientists are eager to learn why these birds have chosen to migrate westward and if they will remain within California’s borders or continue further into other western states.


• Scientific Name: Strixvaria
• Length: 16-25 inches
• Weight: 1-2.75 pounds
• Wingspan: 38-49 inches

Spotted Owl

The Spotted Owl is an endangered species in California that has been threatened by habitat loss and other factors. The species is mainly found in the old-growth redwood forests of the North Coast and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. There are two subspecies of spotted owls in California: the Northern spotted owl (Strixoccidentaliscaurina) and California spotted owl (Strixoccidentalisoccidentalis).

The Northern spotted owl is more common than its cousin, but both have seen drastic population declines in recent years due to human impacts such as logging, land development, and fire suppression. These activities reduce or destroy their habitat, making it difficult for them to find food and shelter.


• Scientific Name: Strixoccidentalis
• Length: 16-17 inches
• Weight: 1-1.3 pounds
• Wingspan: 45-48 inches

Barn Owl

Barn owls are an iconic species in California. A large bird of prey, barn owls have been a part of the Golden State for centuries, and their presence is often seen as a sign of good luck. Despite this long history within the region, these birds now face severe threats to survival throughout California.

The population of barn owls in California has been rapidly decreasing due to climate change, habitat loss, and human activity. As areas become more urbanized and development expands into previously untouched lands, barn owl habitats become increasingly damaged or destroyed. This is further exacerbated by rising temperatures associated with climate change, making it difficult for these birds to survive in certain areas. Additionally, changes in farming practices have led to decreases in rodent populations, which make up much of the diet for barn owls in the state.


• Scientific Name: Tytofurcata
• Length: 13-15 inches
• Weight: 1-1.3 pounds
• Wingspan: 42-43.3 inches

Western Screech-Owl

Owls in California

The Western Screech-Owl is a small nocturnal raptor that lives in western North America. This owl species is found throughout California, from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the chaparral and oak woodlands of the southwestern deserts. It can also be seen in urban areas such as cities and towns.

This owl species is considered an important part of California’s wildlife population as it plays an essential role in its ecosystem by preying upon mice, voles, insects, and other small animals. The Western Screech-Owl has adapted to living near humans; they have often been seen nesting in tree cavities near homes and buildings. Their unique call consists of short trills and long whinnies that can often be heard during the night or early morning hours.


• Scientific Name: Megascopskennicottii
• Length: 7.5-10 inches
• Weight: 3.5-11 ounces
• Wingspan: 22-24 inches

Great Gray Owl

The Great Gray Owl, a large and majestic raptor, has been spotted in California for the first time in years. This rare bird of prey is an impressive sight, with its strong wingspan and dusky gray plumage. It was last seen in the state in 1992 and is now returning.

The Great Gray Owl typically resides in Northern California’s coniferous forests but has been spotted recently swooping over grasslands and open land near Sacramento County. Bird enthusiasts have been eager to glimpse this impressive creature’s graceful flight as it glides through the sky with its distinctive call echoing across the landscape. Its presence is an exciting reminder that even animals once thought lost can triumphantly return to their former habitats.


• Scientific Name: Strixnebulosa
• Length: 25-33 inches
• Weight: 1.5-4 pounds
• Wingspan: 60 inches

Great Horned Owl

Owls in California

The majestic Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) is a common sight in California. This powerful predator is found throughout the state, from the coastal regions to the Sierra Nevada mountains and beyond. With its characteristic tufts of feathers on its head and deep hooting call, this regal bird is a beautiful addition to any outdoor setting.

The Great Horned Owl has excellent vision that allows it to spot prey from great heights during the day or night. It feeds primarily on small mammals such as mice, rats, rabbits, squirrels, and voles but will also take birds and giant insects if necessary. Its acute hearing lets it quickly locate small animals scurrying beneath the leaf litter or snow cover. These wise predators are adaptable and can be found in many habitats, including woodlands, deserts, and even urban parks.


• Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
• Length: 17-25 inches
• Weight: 2.5-4 pounds
• Wingspan: 36-60 inches

Snowy Owl

A Snowy Owl, an iconic species of owl native to the Arctic tundra, has been spotted in California for the first time in decades. The rare sighting occurred near Pt. Reyes Station, a small seaside town north of San Francisco.

The bird was sighted by local photographer Fredrik Tegneraas and shared on his Instagram account over the weekend. He described it as “a large white owl with no ear tufts” standing atop a post at Abbotts Lagoon, just outside Pt. Reyes Station. According to experts in ornithology, this is only the third recorded instance of a Snowy Owl seen in California since records began in 1876; two sightings were reported during the winter of 1929–1930.


• Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
• Length: 20.7-25 inches
• Weight: 3.3-4 pounds
• Wingspan: 47-60 inches

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is one of North America’s smallest species of owls. It can be found across Canada and in parts of California, where it is a regular winter visitor. The small owl’s remarkable camouflage allows it to blend into its environment, making it difficult to spot even when it is pretty close by.

These nocturnal predators feed mainly on small birds, rodents, and insects and are known for their distinctive “toot” call, similar to the sound made by a saw sharpened with a whetstone. The Northern Saw-Whet Owl has been reported throughout many different regions of California, including the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Central Coast region, San Diego County, and other locations further south.


• Scientific Name: Aegoliusacadicus
• Length: 7-8.3 inches
• Weight: 2.3-5.5 ounces
• Wingspan: 16.5-19 inches

Flammulated Owl

The Flammulated Owl (Otusflammeolus) is a species of small owl that can be found in California. These owls are rarely seen due to their size but have been spotted throughout the state. Their call is described as a series of “k-lees” and “top-troops,” which can be heard from dusk until dawn during summer.

The Flammulated Owl has distinctive feathers with brown topsides, white undersides, and reddish facial disks. They typically inhabit coniferous forests and bunch grass meadows at elevations between 4500-9500 feet, making them a vital part of the mountain ecosystem in California. They feed on small insects such as moths, beetles, and crickets at night while roosting in tree cavities during the day.


• Scientific Name: Psiloscopsflammeolus
• Length: 5-6 inches
• Weight: 1.8-2.3 ounces
• Wingspan: 14 inches

Short-Eared Owl

The Short-Eared Owl (Asioflammeus) is a species of owl found throughout California. This owl species is unique, as it is the only one of its kind in the state. The owls have long, pointed wings and bright yellow eyes, which make them easy to spot in their natural habitats.

This owl typically inhabits open grasslands, marshes, and meadows, where it hunts for small mammals such as mice, voles, and shrews. Nocturnal creatures feed mainly at night when prey populations are high. During daylight hours, these owls can often be seen perched atop tall trees or telephone wires, surveying their surroundings for potential food sources or predators.


• Scientific Name: Asioflammeus
• Length: 13-17 inches
• Weight: 7.3-16.8 ounces
• Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 inches

Long-Eared Owl

The long-eared owl, a species of owl native to North America, is making its presence known in California. These owls have been spotted across the state, from San Diego to Sonoma County. Long-eared owls are known for their large ears and distinctive facial disks that help them detect prey in dark environments. They also have a distinct call that can be heard during the night hours when they come out to hunt.

These remarkable birds of prey inhabit forests and open areas and prefer to nest in tree cavities or on branches close to the ground. Their habitats range from coniferous forests, oak woodlands, deserts, and even urban parks, with trees providing adequate cover. Due to their nocturnal nature, it can be challenging to spot these elusive creatures; however, they are often seen perching on fences or power lines at dawn or dusk.


• Scientific Name: Asiootus
• Length: 13.8-15.8 inches
• Weight: 7.8-15.5 ounces
• Wingspan: 35.5-39.5 inches

Northern Pygmy-Owl

The Northern Pygmy-Owl is a small, striking bird native to the western United States. This owl species is a permanent resident of California, inhabiting coniferous forests and woodlands. The Northern Pygmy-Owl has been in California for many years, and birders and ornithologists have documented its presence.

The Northern Pygmy-Owl measures 6 to 7 inches long, with brown upper and white underparts. Its wings are short and rounded, while its tail is slightly longer than other pygmy owls. It also features yellow eyes surrounded by black facial disks, which help it locate prey in dark areas. This owl species typically eat small mammals such as mice and voles, insects, and birds.


• Scientific Name: Glaucidiumcalifornicum
• Length: 6-7 inches
• Weight: 2.2-2.5 ounces
• Wingspan: 15 inches

Burrowing Owl

Owls in California

The Burrowing Owl is an iconic owl species native to California and the southwestern United States. This medium-sized owl has adapted beautifully to its environment, often making its home in caves. The burrowing owl’s distinctive appearance makes it easy to recognize, with bright yellow eyes and a white face framed by a brown chocolate patch around its neck.

In California, the Burrowing Owl can be found in habitats ranging from grasslands and deserts to agricultural lands and open spaces near cities. They are also known for their unique behavior; during the breeding season, they can often be seen standing atop mounds of dirt or elevated perches like fence posts or tree branches during the day. Burrowing Owls are important insectivores essential in controlling insect populations and helping maintain healthy ecosystems across California.


• Scientific Name: Athenecunicularia
• Length: 8-11 inches
• Weight: 5.5-8.5 ounces
• Wingspan: 21-24 inches

Elf Owl

The elf owl, scientifically known as Micrathene Whitney, is one of California’s smallest and cutest species. This tiny creature has a wingspan of just 6–7 inches and weighs only 1.5 ounces! Elf owls are found in the arid deserts of the southwestern United States, stretching from southern California to central Texas.

These intelligent birds are highly adaptive and can be seen roosting in small cavities on saguaros or other desert plants during the day while they hunt for insects at night. Elf owls also have a diverse diet, including beetles, grasshoppers, moths, crickets, and scorpions, which they catch with their strong talons.


• Scientific Name: Micrathene Whitney
• Length: 4.7-6.5 inches
• Weight: 1.4-2.2 ounces
• Wingspan: 10-10.5 inches


Owls in California are an integral part of the state’s ecosystems. Though they are at risk due to loss of habitat and human activity, there are some steps that we can take to ensure their survival. Through conservation and protection efforts, Californians can help protect these majestic birds from further decline. We must also be mindful of our activities that may hurt owl populations.

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