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Owls in Western North Carolina

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TMHughes enjoys birding and mountain biking in North Carolina.

The Barred Owl is one of four owl species common to North Carolina.

The Barred Owl is one of four owl species common to North Carolina.

NC Owls Add to the State's Mystery and Appeal

Anyone who knows the history and geography of North Carolina can relate to the eerie and mysterious quality of the state. The first colonists came ashore on the Outer Banks, barrier islands dominated by Live Oak, Spanish moss, and dark seeming marsh and swampland. As the colonists pushed their way west into the mountains, they traveled through dense forests of hemlocks and rhododendrons. Regardless of where they were, the calls of owls in the night added to the mystery of their land.

In addition to the sounds and sights of owls in the night, the Cherokee belief in the owls only added to their mystique. The Cherokee revere the owl as a source of wisdom and knowledge. Cherokee shamans trust the Screech Owls as consultants from the world around them. Since owls are active at night, they were also associated with the underworld by many tribes.

Owls Native to North Carolina

There are four species of Owls commonly found in North Carolina: The Great Horned Owl, The Barred Owl, and The Screech Owl. These Owls are very hard to see by day and by night but can be easily distinguished by their calls.

Interesting Facts About Barred Owls

  • Barred owl pellets are among the largest pellets of any owl and are a great source of scientific discovery for young scientists.
  • Bard Owls have one of the most distinctive calls in the bird world. It is also known as the eight-hooter and the hoot owl.
  • The Latin name for the Barred Owl is Strix varia.
  • Barred Owls nest in tree cavities, often those left by other birds, and are year-round residents. The mating pair will usually return to the same nesting site year after year.
  • Eggs are laid in the early spring and usually include 2-4 eggs.

Barred Owls in North Carolina

Barred Owls are one of the states favorite birds. Who doesn't feel a thrill when they hear the distinctive call echoing through the night air. The birds are a large and silent hunter that can emerge from out of the gloomiest night to swoop down and capture a tasty meal.

The Barred Owl is a large owl common to all of North America. Because of its notable call it is also known as the hoot owl and the hooter. The call, often remembered by the sentence "who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?", is very recognizable.

Adult Barred Owls are usually between 16" and 25" long, weigh about 1-1.5# and have a wingspan between 3 and four feet. This owl is quite large but not the largest in North America. The species is widespread across the US and Canada, preferring wooded areas where it can hunt small rodents. It is called the Barred Owl because of the distinctive barred pattern on its feathers. The birds are a dark russet to brown color on the upper sides and lighter beneath with the same barred patterns on both sides.

Barred Owls are particularly common in the forests of the south eastern United States. The birds are so numerous that they have begun to move into residential neighborhoods with lots of trees. So far signs indicate that the birds are doing quite well in these habitats and are providing rodent control for the neighborhoods.

There are some strange Barred Owl noises. Apart from the call the birds make a variety of grunts, sqawks and other hard to describe sounds. Barred owls can often be tracked to their roosts by following these sounds.

The Great Horned Owl is the largest owl in NC and in North America.

The Great Horned Owl is the largest owl in NC and in North America.

The Great North State and the Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl is the largest owl in North Carolina and the second largest owl in North America after its close cousin the Snowy Owl. This owl, aside from its giant size, is very distinctive because of the tufts on each side of its head. These tufts are neither horns or ears but merely feathers. The Great Horned Owl is widely spread throughout the Americas and can be found in every habitat from the Arctic Circle to the tip of South America. The Great Horned Owl is a commonly seen in NC forests because it is a year round resident. There are about a dozen recognized sub-species of the Great Horned Owl. These sub-species are divided by variations in color, geographic region and preferred habitat.

Great Horned Owls can be seen late at night in the tops of bare trees. The birds sit and wait for any signs of movement from below and then silently glide on their massive wings to snatch their unsuspecting dinner. They range from 17-25" long as an adult, similar to the Barred Owl, but with a much greater wingspan which can reach up to 5 feet from wingtip to wingtip. Females are slightly larger than the males and can reach up to 3 pounds in weight.

The call of the Great Horn Owl is a low hoo hoo hooing that is similar but distinctly different from the call of the Barred Owl. Young owls, while still in the nest, make hissing and screeching noises that can be confused with the call of the Barn Owl. These owls prefer a mix of terrain that includes open areas where they can hunt and forested areas where they like to roost. Like other owls the Great Horned Owl will roost in hollow cavities in trees or other places they find and may take over a nest left by another bird.

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Read More From Owlcation

Owl pellets are the undigested remains of an owls dinner.  An owls pellets may contain more than one skeleton and the fur of the animal.

Owl pellets are the undigested remains of an owls dinner. An owls pellets may contain more than one skeleton and the fur of the animal.

The Screech Owl is widespread throughout the Americas has several subspecies.

The Screech Owl is widespread throughout the Americas has several subspecies.

What Are Owl Pellets?

  • Owl pellets are the undigested remains of their dinners. Owls eat their prey whole, digest the food parts and then regurgitate a ball of bones and fur. This ball is called an owl pellet and is a handy tool for studying owls. Pellets can be found anywhere owls roost and even sometimes in your biology classroom!

Owl Pellet Dissection

  • Owl pellet dissection is a fun nature activity for kids. The project is often done at summer camps and in school. Owl pellet dissection is also an easy activity to do at home. Pellets can be found in the woods if you know where to find an owl or can be purchased on line for only a few dollars.

Owl Pellet Bone Chart

  • With a bone chart it is possible to rebuild the skeleton of whatever it was the owl last ate. All the major bones for one animal should be present in each pellet but be careful, there may be more then one animal in some.

Screech Owls in Western North Carolina

Screech Owls are another owl whose range is limited to the Americas. Like the Great Horned Owl it is highly adaptable and can be found in habitats ranging from northern Canada to the tip of Argentina. There are currently 21 known and recognized species of Screech Owl and more are being found regularly, especially deep in the jungles of South America.

The Screech Owl commonly found in North Carolina is the Eastern Red Screech Owl. These are small to medium sized owls that typically range from 7-10" in length and wingspans up to 24". They also have distinctive tufts of feathers on the top of their heads which can make them look like miniature versions of Horned Owls.

Screech Owls like a mixed terrain of semi-open areas, especially where there are plenty of trees for them to nest in. They feed on small mammals and insects and can be heard trilling through the trees late at night. The Screech Owls call is actually nothing like a screech at all. It is actually a quick series of notes sung one on top of the another in rapid succession. Calls between different species of Screech Owls vary widely and is a good way to distinguish them.

This Barn Owl was photographed by a F&W Services officer.  It was injured while hunting.

This Barn Owl was photographed by a F&W Services officer. It was injured while hunting.

Barn Owls in Western North Carolina

Barn Owls are the most widely distributed owl and one of the worlds most widely distributed birds. The distinctive pale heart shaped face is iconic and well known. Barn Owls are found nearly everywhere except the polar and dessert regions and the Pacific Islands. There are about 20 or so subspecies of the Barn Owl but the one you can find in North Carolina is the subspecies Tyto alba pratincola.

These owls are medium sized in the owl world, usually about 10-20" in length with a wingspan of about 3 feet across. The females are usually larger than the males, like in most owl and raptor species. They like to roost in tree hollows, small caves and of course barns.

This bird would more aptly be called the screech owl because of its call. The call of the Barn Owl is a kind of shrieking hiss.

Did You Know?

  • Owls eyes can not move within their eye sockets so they have to move their entire head when looking at something.
  • An owl can turn its head an amazing 270° so that they can change their field of vision without moving their entire body.
  • Owls ears are not positioned in the same place on both sides of its head. This helps the birds pin-point their prey by providing a kind of binocular like hearing. By tilting it head an owl can pinpoint the location of its prey by hearing alone.
  • Prey is usually killed with the talons or by biting the head. Prey is also swallowed whole, a habit which leads to the production of owl pellets.

Places to See Owls in North Carolina

  • Western North Carolina Nature Center- Located in Asheville, North Carolina. The WNC Nature Center is a valuable resource for education on the wildlife and vegetation native to the region. On display are reptiles, amphibians, birds, raptors, owls, black bears and red wolves. The Nature Center is home to a wide variety of indigenous species and also cares for injured animals found in the wild.
  • North Carolina Raptor Center- Is a non-profit center for the education, conservation and rehabilitation of raptors and birds of prey. They are located in Huntersville, NC.

Questions & Answers

Question: Besides rodents, what do owls eat?

Answer: Owls also eat small birds.

Question: What do owls eat?

Answer: Owls eat whatever they can catch, usually small nocturnal rodents.


K HARISH RAMACHANDRAN from INDIA on January 20, 2016:

So far i was familiar only with the ordinary owl that i have seen in the jungle. But after reading this hub, i am now really fascinated in researching more about the different species of owls in the world.

promisem on March 20, 2014:

What an interesting idea for a hub. Nicely done!

sharewhatuknow from Western Washington on November 04, 2012:

Yea, I certainly do. I would love to see an owl every now and again.

TMHughes (author) from Asheville, NC on November 04, 2012:

Thank you for the votes ! Hope you see some owls soon!

sharewhatuknow from Western Washington on November 04, 2012:

Thank you TMHughes for such a great and very informative hub. I love owls and believe they are magnificent creatures.

But here in western WA. where I live, I never see any owls. And once in a great while, I will hear a hoot owl. That is such a shame, as this is the only way I can see owls-if someone writes a hub about them.

I voted awesome, interesting and useful.

Debby Bruck on November 01, 2012:

TM - I just HAD to pop over from the front page to see your article. Put North Carolina and Owls together in one sentence and I'm over here. Congratulations on award winning page. Owls are a beloved bird of fascination. I enjoy their hooting at night and call to them. And, if I see them in a tree or flying over head, I stop where I am just to look. Thanks for this wonderful page. P.S. I also wrote an Owl Hubpages a couple of years ago. Blessings, Debby

TMHughes (author) from Asheville, NC on October 31, 2012:

They're hard to see , especially during the day. I've got a great horned owl in my tree across the street but I've never seen it!

Tammy from North Carolina on October 31, 2012:

I have heard owls here in Western, NC but I still haven't spotted one yet. I am always on the lookout. Outstanding hub!

Pamela Lipscomb from Charlotte, North Carolina on October 30, 2012:

Congratulations on HOTD! I live in NC and I love owls. They are very beautiful, and so necessary to our eco-system. Voted up

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on October 26, 2012:

Congratulations on HOTD! Well deserved! What a fascinating and well done article.

I love owls; I always have. They have an air of mystery and majesty about them. I used to tease my father when I was a child--a certain expression he'd get on his face--and I'd think he sort of looked like a barn owl. I'd say to my mother, "He's barn-owling again!" LOL

This was a great read..very interesting and loved the videos. Voted up across and shared here and on FaceBook.

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on October 26, 2012:

Congratulations on HOTD! Your information and photographs of owls in Western North Carolina are beautiful and interesting. We have many owls and raptors here in Central Oregon and I have always been fascinated by them. Rated up! Best, Steph

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on October 26, 2012:

Very interesting read on owls. I'm always fascinated by their stern looks. Congrats on the HOTD award!

annerivendell from Dublin, Ireland on October 26, 2012:

Wow what an enjoyable hub. I'm not surprised it made hub of the day! I loved it. Congratulations.

Veronica Roberts from Ohio, USA on October 26, 2012:

Very interesting & informative hub!

Why are Barred Owls called "eight-hooters"?

Congratulations on having the HOD!

Stephanie Marie Severson from Atlanta, GA on October 26, 2012:

Wow! That was very interesting. Congrats on hub of the day!

Joon Lee on October 26, 2012:

Great article!

TMHughes (author) from Asheville, NC on October 26, 2012:

One of my favorites too! They are so mysterious.... And spooky when you hear one late at night!

whonunuwho from United States on October 26, 2012:

Beautiful pictures and one of my favorite birds. The owls are very special in the cycle of life and have a mystique about them. The Native Americans regard the owls as an omen bird and hold it with greatest respect. Thanks for the nice work, TM.

hhunterr from Highway 24 on October 26, 2012:

Beautifully descriptive, with fine detail on inclusion of pics and vids. From one who lived in Brevard and around the B-Ridge, good job.

Chace from Charlotte, NC on October 26, 2012:

Cool! I'm from Charlotte, NC and there are tons of owls in Freedom Park. I love sitting on a bench and waiting for them to land near me or on a tree close by. I think owls are majestic and mysterious. :) Wonderful hub.

Dreamer at heart from Northern California on October 26, 2012:

This is a beautiful article about owls and very educational too. I enjoyed reading it and always keep my eyes open for interesting birds outdoors.

TMHughes (author) from Asheville, NC on October 26, 2012:

these owls can all be found in your area too!

TMHughes (author) from Asheville, NC on October 26, 2012:

Awesome! If you can upload your pics so we can all see!

ignugent17 on October 26, 2012:

Congratulations hub of the day! :-)

RTalloni on October 26, 2012:

Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for this look at owls. They are such amazing creatures and I enjoyed looking this over. It will be a neat reference for anyone interested in owls.

I just painted four whimsical owls after looking at the wildlife art of Roger Tory Peterson.

KerryAnita from Satellite Beach, Florida on October 26, 2012:

Wonder article!

TMHughes (author) from Asheville, NC on October 26, 2012:

oh my....I just found out my hub is Hub of the Day! I really can't believe it, thank you all so much. I truly enjoy writing hubs and you all and you're comments make me love it. I will keep writing if you all will! Happy Hublishing Everyone!

TMHughes (author) from Asheville, NC on October 26, 2012:

You are so right about NC biodiversity! It's part of why I love it here!

Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on October 26, 2012:

They sure are beautiful. So many people have no idea that North Carolina is home to many wonderful creatures and culture. Thanks for the information you put together. the owls are such magnificent birds. I loved hearing their calls.

TMHughes (author) from Asheville, NC on October 26, 2012:

You should be able to distinguish species by the call. Hope this helps. Thanks a bunch for the feedback.

TMHughes (author) from Asheville, NC on October 26, 2012:

Thanks everyone for the wonderful feedback. I was inspired to write this because a great horned owl recently moved into my neighborhood. I can hear it at night hooting away. :-)

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on October 26, 2012:

Wonderful hub! I love to listen to the owls call in the evenings. I'm not sure what type of owls we have here in Southern Oklahoma as they are very rarely seen. Hubby can actually "call up" an owl. My grandkids are amazed when Papa Johnny can make an owl come closer. Great job here! Voting up and more! :)

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on October 26, 2012:

Owls truly are mysterious every time I see one. They always seem to me to have a secret they are waiting to share. This was very informative. I have never seen an owl pellet so now I have a new wrinkle in my brain from learning that. Thanks for sharing.

MooN from Pakistan on October 26, 2012:

Very nice article abou ullous :). Great hub. Heather you are right, pic also brought some memories of mine. :)

whowas on October 26, 2012:

Hi TMHughes,

WOW! That's a fabulous hub about the owls in North Carolina. We have owls here, too but nothing like the variety of species that you see there. Great information, beautiful pictures, fascinating videos, well written and all about birds - just my kind of hub!

Thank you very much for this and all the best. :)

TMHughes (author) from Asheville, NC on October 19, 2012:

I know! I'm going to order done for me my friends just for fun.

Heather from Arizona on October 19, 2012:

Great article. Your pic brought back some memories of dissecting an owl pellet in middle school. :)

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