11 Different Types of Owls in Illinois

Different Types of Owls in Illinois
Photo by Erzsébet Vehofsics

Illinois is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including owls! Many different types of owls in Illinois have been spotted in the state, each with its own unique characteristics. 

From the majestic Great Horned Owl to the elusive Short-Eared Owl, Illinois has many owl species that inhabit its forests, wetlands, and prairies.

In this blog post, we’ll be looking at each of the types of owls in Illinois and their habitat, diet, and behavior.

1. Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) is one of the most widely distributed owls in the world, found throughout North America and parts of Central and South America. It is also one of the most common types of owls in Illinois, where it is often seen perched on trees and fences or swooping through the night sky in search of prey. This species is known for its distinctive “hoot” call, which can be heard from up to two miles away. 

Its plumage is generally brown with white spots and barred feathers across the chest. Its long tufts of feathers give it a unique appearance, which can be seen from a distance. This species prefers open woodlands and grasslands, making it common in suburban and rural areas in Illinois. 

They hunt for small mammals such as rabbits, voles, and mice and large birds such as ducks, geese, and grouse. During the breeding season, Great Horned Owls will build nests in large trees or on ledges. They typically lay three to five eggs in a clutch, which hatch after about 30 days. The female will remain with the young for several weeks until they can fly and hunt independently.

2. Barred Owl

The Barred Owl is also one of the common types of owls in Illinois. They are medium-sized owls with a body length between 16 to 25 inches. Their wingspan can reach up to 3.5 feet, and they have a distinct coloration of brown and white stripes on their chests, with dark eyes and a round face. 

Barred Owls inhabit woodlands and forests in the state, where they nest and hunt for prey such as small mammals, insects, and reptiles. During the winter months, Barred Owls may migrate further south to avoid the cold temperatures. These owls are active at night and can be heard calling, “Who cooks for you?” in the evenings.

Barred Owls are a protected species in Illinois and are managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. To ensure that these birds thrive in the state, it is important to provide them with a safe habitat with plenty of food and shelter. By providing nesting boxes for these owls, landowners can help boost the Barred Owls population in Illinois.

3. Eastern Screech Owl

The Eastern Screech Owl is third on this list of the different types of owls in Illinois. It is a small owl, measuring 8-10 inches long with a wingspan of 20-24 inches. The Eastern Screech Owl can be found in various habitats throughout the state, including wooded areas, swamps, and even urban backyards. 

Moreover, they typically hunt in open areas at night but may also hunt during the day. The Eastern Screech Owl has an unmistakable call that is often heard in the spring and summer months. The call is a low-pitched trill lasting around 2 seconds. 

The Eastern Screech Owl is generally brown or gray, but it can range from light to dark shades. It has bright yellow eyes and a facial disk with vertical lines, which are useful for camouflage in its natural habitat. The Eastern Screech Owl also has a unique physical feature—long tufts of feathers on its head, which can be used for communication among owls. These tufts are also known as “ear tufts” since they can be used to show how the owl is feeling.

4. Barn Owl

On this list of the various types of owls in Illinois is the barn owl, a medium-sized owl found in the state of Illinois. It is typically 12–15 inches tall and has a wingspan of 32–37 inches, making it the world’s most widely distributed owl species. Its white face and yellow eyes give it an almost ghostly look, which helps it hunt for small rodents like mice, shrews, and voles at night. 

They are not migratory birds and prefer to live in wooded areas, grasslands, and farmlands, often nesting in tree cavities or old buildings. Barn owls also inhabit marshes and wetlands, making them a unique addition to the many species of owls found in Illinois.

5. Northern Saw-Whet Owl

The Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) is a small, nocturnal owl that can be found in many parts of North America. In Illinois, these birds are quite common and can be found in almost all habitats, including forests, parks, fields, and even urban areas. They have a distinctive call that sounds like a series of soft whistles, which helps to distinguish them from other types of owls in the area. 

The Northern Saw-whet Owl has light brown plumage with white spots, a round facial disk with white and orange markings, and bright yellow eyes. They are types of owls in Illinois that mainly feed on small rodents, such as mice and voles, but they may also eat insects and small birds. During the breeding season, they often nest in old woodpecker holes or in tree cavities.

6. Snowy Owl

Talking of the majestic types of owls in Illinois, the Snowy Owl is one found in the northernmost areas of the state. It has white plumage, a black beak, and yellow eyes, and it is one of the most recognizable owls in the state. These owls are migratory birds and only appear in Illinois during winter. 

Further, they prefer open fields, marshlands, and grasslands for nesting. During their migration, they may also be seen flying over large bodies of water or near airports. The diet of Snowy Owls mainly consists of small mammals such as voles, mice, rabbits, and lemmings. 

They also feed on other birds, such as ducks, grouse, and pigeons. They hunt during the day and have excellent eyesight, able to spot prey from several hundred yards away. With their sharp talons and powerful wings, they are formidable predators.

7. Long-Eared Owl

The Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) is one of the different types of owls in Illinois that we’ll be discussing now. It is a medium-sized owl with a round head, long ear tufts, yellow eyes, and patterned brown and white plumage. The long-eared owl is most commonly seen in open woodlands or wetlands but also in suburban areas and woodlots. 

These owls prefer to hunt for small mammals such as mice, voles, and other rodents during the night. They are most active in winter and often roost in large flocks. The Long-eared Owl will perform a unique courtship display to attract a mate. It will fly from branch to branch while making soft calls and fluffing its feathers. 

Its diet consists mostly of small mammals such as mice, voles, moles, rabbits, and small birds. The Long-eared Owl is a valuable asset to the natural environment in Illinois as it helps keep rodent populations in check. Unfortunately, their numbers have declined due to habitat loss and other factors. If you’re lucky enough to spot one of these elusive types of owls in Illinois, consider yourself lucky!

8. Short-Eared Owl

The Short-eared Owl is a species of owl found in Illinois, particularly in areas with open habitats such as grasslands and marshlands. The owls are approximately 15 inches tall and have 39 to 42 inches wingspan. They can be identified by their yellow eyes, white eyebrow stripe, reddish-brown facial disks, and streaked feathers. 

Short-eared Owls are mostly active at dusk and dawn when they are hunting for small mammals such as mice, voles, and moles. These are types of owls in Illinois that also feed on insects and other small animals. Short-eared Owls usually nest in abandoned nests of other birds or in hollows of trees. 

During the winter, these owls migrate south to the southern United States, Mexico, and Central America. This species is listed as endangered in Illinois and is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Protecting these owls and their habitat is important, so their populations remain healthy.

9. Burrowing Owl

The burrowing owl has not left off this list of the various types of owls in Illinois. These small owls are usually around 8-11 inches tall and have bright yellow eyes. The burrowing owl is a ground-dwelling species that prefer grassy areas like meadows, prairies, and farmland. They often nest in underground burrows, which they dig or take over from other animals. 

Burrowing owls hunt by day, eating mostly insects and small mammals. While they do not migrate, they may move to new areas for food. Illinois is an important habitat for these owls, and they can often be seen perched on fence posts or hovering over fields in search of prey.

10. Northern Hawk Owl

The Northern Hawk Owl is a type of owl found in the northern parts of Illinois. These owls are slender and have a wingspan of up to 24 inches. Their faces have a pale, creamy color with dark spots and stripes. They have large yellow eyes and long pointed wings. 

The Northern Hawk Owl mostly feeds on small rodents, amphibians, reptiles, and occasionally small birds. They like to hunt during the day and roost in trees or man-made structures at night. They usually lay their eggs in tree cavities or abandoned nests.

The Northern Hawk Owl is not only one of the types of owls in Illinois but also an elusive bird that has adapted well to urbanized areas. They are often seen perching on power lines and buildings, searching for prey. During migration, they often fly along the lakefront, looking for places to rest. It is important to note that these owls are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and should not be disturbed or harmed in any way.

11. Boreal Owl

The Boreal Owl is a type of owl that is native to the state of Illinois. This small and elusive bird can be found in wooded areas and dense forests throughout the northern part of the state. The Boreal Owl has white, gray, and brown feathers, a striking yellow facial disk, and bright yellow eyes. Its diet consists primarily of small mammals, insects, and other birds. 

They are one of the types of owls in Illinois that are most active during the day but can also be seen at dusk and dawn. These owls typically nest in tree cavities, old barns, or birdhouses. The Boreal Owl is uncommon in Illinois, as their populations have decreased due to habitat loss and other human disturbances. Therefore, it is important to protect their habitats and monitor their populations so that they can remain a part of the state’s wildlife.


Illinois is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including different species of owls. Whether you are a novice birder or a seasoned expert, learning more about the various types of owls in Illinois can be an exciting and rewarding experience.

Different types of owls in Illinois can be found, and each has unique characteristics and habitats. Bird watchers in Illinois will have plenty of opportunities to view these magnificent birds in their natural habitats.

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