15 Common Types of Owls in Washington State 

Washing State is a lush haven full of forests, open grasslands, rivers, and hills, which makes it one of the favorite habitats for hundreds of species of birds and animals. In these lushes, greeneries, and forests, there are over 15 types of owls in Washington State. These nocturnal creatures have large, rounded eyes, stocky bodies, and powerful talons.

Depending on the species, many owls in Washington State hoot at night, accompanied by whistles and screeches. Owls can live in trees, underground holes, cavities, or in barns. While the great horned owl is the most popular in Washington State, this article focuses on various species of these birds, often surrounded by symbolism and superstition.

Here, we’re going to look at the following owls in Washington State, mention where you can find them, outline their breeding habits, and describe their appearance. The most common owls in the Evergreen State include:

  • Barn Owl
  • Barred Owl
  • Boreal Owl
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Great Gray Owl
  • Flammulated Owl
  • Long-Eared Owl
  • Northern Hawk Owl
  • Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Northern Pygmy Owl
  • Short-Eared Owl
  • Snowy Owl
  • Spotted Owl
  • Western Screech Owl

Types of Owls in Washington State

Of the 15 species that call this state their home, there are a couple of rare species, such as the snowy owl and the spotted owl. Whether you’re birding in the North Cascades, Olympic National Park, or traversing the Great Washington State Birding Trail, here are the various species of owls you’re likely to meet.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

Popular owl in Washington State

With golden-buff plumage and dark eyes, the Barn Owl is a large owl with a wingspan of 39 inches and a height of 20 inches. It has longer legs than most owls in the Washington area, and prefers perching and even nesting in barns or abandoned buildings.

The barn owl is a tough predator, often scavenging for rodents in open grasslands and hunting for rats and other small animals. They are present in Washington throughout the year and can be found almost everywhere in the Evergreen State.

Barred Owl (Strix varia)

Almost the same size as the Great Horned Owl, the Barred Owl has dark eyes and a distinct barring pattern around the neck and breast that extends to the belly. Its face is pure gray, while its bill is yellow.

The Barred Owl is a popular bird in the forests of the eastern and northern U.S. and can be found in the deciduous forests in the north of Washington. You’ll find them nesting in forests that are closer to wetlands. They’re monogamous and territorial birds of prey that stay in the same place all year round.

Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus)

Named after the winged Greek God of the wind, Boreas, this owl is cinnamon brown with white spots on the back. Big yellow eyes and a light-colored bill define its face, which appears larger than the body. It’s a small owl nearly the size of the American Robin or Blue Jay.

The Boreal Owl loves nesting and breeding in boreal forests, which are common in the southwestern parts of Washington. This owl shows the highest sexual dimorphism among all owls in Washington, with females nearly twice as large as males.

Burrowing Owl

The only owl nesting in burrows in Washington State

Unlike other owls which nest on trees or cavity boxes, the Burrowing Owl lives in burrows dug by rodents, prairie dogs, and voles. Burrowing Owls have dark brown eyes with white eyelids. The upper side of their heads has feathers that are longer than those on their underparts.

Burrowing Owls live in dry grasslands, dry savannas, or other open countrysides where they can dig or burrow into the ground to hide from predators like hawks and owls. They are one of the few owls that hunt during the daytime and tuck away during the night. It’s not a popular owl in Washington and is mostly seen during the breeding season.

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

Largest owl in Washington State

With large ear tufts, the Great Horned Owl, or the Cat Owl, is a large owl with a wingspan of 48 inches and a height of 20 inches. It has dark brown plumage with black spots on the upperparts, which gives the back pale brown bars.

It’s the only owl in Washington and across the country, which can turn its head 270 degrees when facing forward. It’s widely distributed throughout the Evergreen State, breeding and nesting in a variety of habitats, including forested areas, prairies, deserts, and wetlands.

Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)

With a wingspan of about 5 feet, the Great Gray Owl is the largest owl species in the world because of its large feathers. Otherwise, it’s smaller than the Great Horned Owl as it has a smaller body size and weight. Males have a white face with black eyes and a black beak, while the female has brownish facial plumage.

The Great Gray Owls are often seen in wooded areas throughout much of Washington State. They often hunt in pairs or small groups. Their diet consists mostly of rodents, small birds, and small animals. They’re quite popular in the eastern parts of the state along the forests of Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Point Washington State Forest.

Flammulated Owl (Psiloscops flammeolus)

Fastest owl in Washington State

With long and powerful wings, the Flammulated Owl is a fast flier than most owls in Washington State. It’s a small owl, which got its name from its ‘charred’ appearance. It appears like a piece of wood covered by smoke and ember.

The Flammulated Owl lives at the heart of deciduous and coniferous forests. They’re not common owls in Washington State, but you can spot them in breeding season when they form loose colonies of up to six birds. It primarily feeds on insects, but it also eats small animals and birds. This owl migrates to the south during winter months.

Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)

Elusive but ferocious, the Long-eared Owl is a large owl with a wingspan of 39 inches and a length of 15 inches. It’s a cavity nester and opportunistic owl which steals nests from smaller birds like jays and crows. With long tufts on the head, the Long-eared Owl is dark brown with white and orange streaks throughout its body.

The Long-eared Owl is chocolate brown barred with white and streaked with a hint of orange. It’s famous for its long pair of ear tufts. They’re dark brown with a little orange and white like the rest of the body. It has yellow-orange eyes. The inner facial disc is white while the outer is orange.

Northern Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula)

With poor hearing than most owls, the Northern Hawk Owl must hunt and scheme like a top raptor. It’s a hawk-eyed, fearless, and confrontational bird that attacks anything, including other birds of prey and even birdwatchers.

It’s mostly found in the colder areas of Canada and Alaska, but can sometimes be seen in Washington State. The Northern Hawk Owl has yellow eyes and a bill and is covered with brown plumage with white specks.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)

Small with dark brown upperpart and white breast, the Northern Saw-Whet Owl is a cavity nester, and will surely appreciate a nest box. It prefers dense coniferous forests where they hunt for deer mice and other small animals. Females have two mates, one is tasked with brooding, and the other is responsible for hunting and territorial defense.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl is another rare owl in Washington State. It’s also solitary and nocturnal, making it hard to spot, but thanks to its porphyrin pigments in the feathers, when you shine UV light on the feathers, you get a pink color.

Northern Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium gnoma)

Smallest owl in Washington State

Smallest of all the owls in Washington State, the Northern Pygmy owl is just 7 inches and is often overlooked as another small brown bird in the bush. This owl is small but fearless and is often seen in winter feeders trying to prey on small birds like finches, hummingbirds, robins, and sparrows.

The Northern Pygmy Owl has striking black patches on the back of its head, crisp streaks on the breast, and large dark eyes. They’re courageous and will nest in urban areas, frequent backyards, and hunt in daylight. They’re poor listeners but outstanding sighters. You can find them all year round in Washington state in open pine and coniferous forests.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

With brown and white plumage, the Short-eared Owl has short tufts on the head. They have a wide range in Washington and can mostly be spotted in open fields, agricultural areas, and woodlands with low vegetation.

The Short-eared Owl forms loose colonies during the breeding season, where they nest in ground areas in summer and in trees in winter. They are diurnal owls, hunting day and night for rodents and insects.

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)

Heaviest owl

Not the largest, but the heaviest owls in Washington State, with adult owls weighing up to 5 pounds. They have dense white feathers that protect them from the freezing temperatures of the Arctic tundra.

Snowy owls are aggressive daytime hunters, with their favorite meals being the lemmings. They are rare owls in Washington but have a vast range. You can find them in Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, the western sides of the Cascades, and Skagit Valley.

Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis)

With declining populations, it’s estimated that there are only about 15,000 spotted owls in North America. They have round faces, deep brown eyes, and ash-brown plumage, with white spots on their heads.

The Spotted Owl is a nocturnal owl that hoots to communicate and hunt at night. They stash leftovers of their prey in tree holes, fallen logs, and moss-covered rocks. The Spotted Owl is a “sit and wait” hunter and mostly feeds on squirrels, deer mice, and gophers.

Western Screech Owl (Megascops kennicottii)

Distinct with gray plumage with shades of black, the Western Screech Owl has bright yellow eyes and a gray beak. They have round heads with ear tufts and make sharp, short whistles and trills to communicate. These owls don’t screech as their name suggests.

The Western Screech Owl is a small owl but a tough predator who hides in tree branches to surprise its prey. You can find it in the woodlands, streambeds, forests, and semi-open areas of Washington State.

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