Sounds Of 7 OWLS In North Carolina (With Photos & Calls)
Did you recently hear an owl sound in North Carolina, and want to know what species it was?
Identifying owl calls in the Old North State is not as easy as it might seem, since there are many owls species in North Carolina.
To help you identify the owl you heard, we’ll cover the most common owl sounds of North Carolina in this article.
What sounds do North Carolina owls make?
Below we’ve uploaded the sounds of the 7 types of owls found in North Carolina:
- Great Horned Owl
- Barn Owl
- Long-eared Owl
- Short-eared Owl
- Barred Owl
- Eastern Screech-Owl
- Northern Saw-whet Owl
- Snowy Owl (rare)
By learning to recognize their call, you can identify these owls even if it’s hard to see them in the dark of night. This is extremely helpful if you want to identify North Carolina owls.
And while most of these owls are regular birds in North Carolina, the last species on the list are vagrants that only rarely occur in the state.
Now let’s dive in and listen to the calls and sounds of these owls:
Great Horned Owl
Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
Great Horned Owl call:
(Recording source: Christopher McPherson, XC691461, www.xeno-canto.org/691461)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of a Great Horned Owl, which can be heard from both males and females.
With a wingspan up to 4 feet, the Great Horned Owl is the largest owl species breeding in North Carolina.
It is a large brown-colored bird with two ear tufts (also called horns) and big yellow eyes.
In North Carolina, this owl starts its nesting very early in the year, laying its eggs in January or February.
The Great Horned Owl doesn’t build its own nest, but instead occupies the nests of other large birds, such as herons or raptors.
It is almost entirely nocturnal, and can hunt in complete darkness by relying on its keen sense of hearing.
It can be heard in North Carolina year-round, and is found in a wide variety of habitats, from woodlands to urban areas.
These big North Carolina birds are fierce hunters, catching birds up to the size of ducks, and mammals up to the size of squirrels, rabbits, and even young foxes.
Scientific name: Tyto alba
Barn Owl sound:
(Recording source: Jayrson De Oliveira, XC619814, www.xeno-canto.org/619814)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of an American Barn Owl. It is a screeching sound that is hard to miss.
Somewhat softer and less intense-looking than the Great Horned Owl, Barn Owls are characterized by their white coat of feathers, and their “friendlier” appearance.
This is the most common owls species in North Carolina
Armed with exceptional night vision, Barn Owls are strictly nocturnal raptors and therefore hard to spot. However, they can be readily identified by their characteristic screeching calls.
And if you do spot one flying overhead by the light of the moon, you may be able to see the glow of their white underside.
These owls are present in North Carolina all year round, and favor open areas and farmland as their hunting grounds.
Scientific name: Asio otus
Long-eared Owl call:
(Recording source: Baltasar Pinheiro, XC737794, www.xeno-canto.org/737794)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of a Long-eared Owl.
These well-camouflaged, medium-sized owls are smaller than the aforementioned species, and occur in North Carolina as regular winter visitors.
They use their favored habitat of dense wooded areas to prey on the small rodents, small birds and other animals that call the nearby grasslands their home.
Similar to other owl species, Long-eared Owls can fly completely silently due to fringes on their flight feathers.
Together with their keen sense of hearing, this enables them to catch prey by surprising it in the dark of the night.
But despite their best efforts to remain hidden, these owls can be identified by their long, low hoots.
Another great characteristic for identifying these owls is by their elongated tufts of feathers on the ears, and their droppings found underneath conifer trees close to grassy areas.
Scientific name: Asio flammeus
Short-eared Owl sound:
(Recording source: Lars Edenius, XC718743, www.xeno-canto.org/718743)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of a Short-eared Owl.
The Short-eared Owl is a migratory owl species that is only found in North Carolina outside of the breeding season as a winter visitor during the months of October through March.
Short-eared Owls are more often observed hunting in daylight than other owls species.
Together with their preferred hunting tactic of flying low over the ground in open areas, this makes them relatively easy to spot.
You can encounter these owls during the winter in North Carolina in any kind of open landscapes, including farmland, airports, and fallow land.
Scientific name: Strix varia
Barred Owl call:
(Recording source: Jim Berry, XC713081, www.xeno-canto.org/713081)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of a Barred Owl.
The Barred Owl was originally a bird of eastern North America, but it steadily expanded its range westwards over the past century.
This owl now has breeding populations in the Pacific Northwest. In North Carolina, it can be encountered throughout the state where there are suitable habitats.
Similar to other owls, the Barred Owl is easiest to find by listening for its characteristic hooting call.
Their preferred habitat is mature forest and forests bordering swamps. They readily accept nest boxes that are set up in old trees.
Eastern Screech Owl
Scientific name: Megascops asio
Eastern Screech-Owl sound:
(Recording source: Wisconagus, XC690687, www.xeno-canto.org/690687)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of an Eastern Screech-Owl.
Originally birds of open woodlands, Eastern Screech-Owls have adapted very well to urban habitats, and are regularly found in parks, large gardens, and golf courses.
They breed in tree cavities, and are best identified by their characteristic series of accelerating hoots.
These owls are common throughout North Carolina, and can be seen in the state all year round.
They have a very varied diet, which includes any type of small animal ranging from worms to insects, rodents, and reptiles.
Eastern Screech Owls readily accept artificial nesting cavities, which means you can attract them to your backyard by setting up nest boxes.
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
Northern Saw-whet Owl call:
(Recording source: Lance A. M. Benner, XC546885, www.xeno-canto.org/546885)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of a Northern Saw-whet Owl.
This is another small owl species that’s hardly larger than a pint. The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a rare breeding bird in the mountains of western North Carolina.
These owls are hard to see, but they are easy to detect if you listen for their characteristic too-too-too call at night.
They nest in tree cavities, but also readily accept man made nest boxes. So if you have a large garden with mature trees, it’s worth putting up a nest box well before the nesting season.
Snowy Owl (rare)
Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
Snowy Owl call:
(Recording source: Tero Linjama, XC343144, www.xeno-canto.org/343144)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of a Snowy Owl.
Snowy Owls are very rare winter visitors in North Carolina, and are most likely to occur during irruptive years, when large numbers of Snowy Owls migrate south due to a shortage of suitable prey in their regular wintering grounds.
When these owls show up in North Carolina, they are usually spotted in wide open areas, such as shorelines and grassland.
The Snowy Owl is the largest owl species in North America, and weighs more than the Great Horned Owl.
Snowy Owls are easily recognizable by their large size, rounded head white coloration with varying amounts of black markings.
Snowy Owls are rare winter visitors in North Carolina, where they can be seen in wide open areas, such as shorelines and grassland.
These owls breed in the high arctic well north of the arctic circle, where they hunt ptarmigans and lemmings.
These big owls favor open ground, and can often be observed perching on the ground. In cultivated landscapes they also perch on hay bales, fence posts and telephone poles.
Snowy Owls follow the population changes of small mammals, and are most common in winters with high rodent populations.
And there we have the most common owl sounds that can be heard in North Carolina!
I think you’ll find that, with a little practice, identifying owls by their sounds is much easier than identifying them by sight.
Of course this doesn’t apply when owls are silent, which can be the case with winter visitors such as Snowy Owls or Northern Hawk Owls.
If you enjoyed this article, check out our guide to the raptors in North Carolina.