- How many species of owls are there?
In Canada, we see around 15 different species of owls. Those include Great Horned Owls, Great Gray Owls, Short Eared and Long Eared Owls, Barn Owls, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Eastern and Western Screech Owls, Burrowing Owls, Snowy Owls, Northern Pygmy Owls, Flammulated Owls, Barred owls, and Boreal Owls.
This may seem a lot… but there are over 200 owl species worldwide. Owls can be found on every continent except Antarctica.
- Where do owls live?
Owls can be found in many habitats; from mountainous regions to forests and deserts. The snowy owl is at home in colder climates. Owls are hard to spot; not only are they mostly nocturnal but, they also blend in fabulously with their surroundings. Owls will stalk and hunt their prey from high up in trees, but that’s not necessarily where they live. They often make their home in lower shelter, such as bushes, shrubs and tree trunks. The burrowing owl even takes shelter in underground dwellings dug by other animals.
- Do owls migrate?
Some owls do migrate but many of the species found in Canada stay here year round. The ones that do migrate, will generally only go as far as the northern United States. Great Horned Owls have been observed to migrate east, rather than south. When food becomes scarce in the prairies, they head up to 1500km east or south-east.
- How long do owls live?
In the wild, most owls get to be around 10 years old. In captivity, they can live almost twice as long. Mind you, life expectancy very much varies according to owl size and species. A small barn owl may only live to be 4 years old while a larger bird like the snowy owl can easily live to 10 and over.
- How do you tell a female owl from a male?
Size is often a first indicator: Like many bird species, a female owl will generally grow larger than a male. Certain species have distinct markings as well… for example, female barn owls will have a brown throat where males have a white throat. But, without seeing a male and a female of the same species sitting side by side, it would be next to impossible to tell for the average owl watcher.
- What do owls eat?
Generally speaking, owls mostly eat small mammals, but also frogs, snakes, insects, and even fish. It very much depends on the size of the owl and the prey available in the area.
- How do owls hunt?
Extremely efficiently! They have VERY good hearing and eye sight AND their flight is pretty much silent, allowing them to attack without warning. Their sharp talons are able to crush prey and their beaks do the rest. Barn owls’ hearing is so acute that they can even detect prey covered by leaves or other debris.
- Do owls have great eye sight?
Oh yes, owls have excellent eye sight. At least, at a distance. Owls are far sighted – that means, they can see objects much better or clearer from far away than up close. Owls have also excellent binocular vision – meaning that both eyes can focus on one object at the same time. This produces a great improvement in depth perception.
- How do owls see in the dark?
Owl eyes have large lenses close to the back part of eye (the retina). These large lenses let in more light to reach the retina compared with other animals or humans, helping them to see better at night. The eyes take up about half the volume of an owl skull and they can also rotate their head up to 270° allowing them to see their prey at different distances even in the dark.
- Do owls have great hearing?
Because Owls are generally nocturnal, their hearing is highly developed and sensitive. The ears are located at the sides of the head, behind the eyes, and are covered by the feathers of the facial disc. The asymmetrical ear openings permit sounds to be perceived in only a fraction of a second—allowing them to hear mice under the snow in winter. A very pronounced facial disc will function like a "radar dish", guiding sounds into the ear openings. What we often think of as ears (those tufts of feathers) are actually just decorative feathers.
- What type of predators do owls face?
Depending on the owl's habitat, size and species, foxes, snakes, squirrels, wildcats and eaglescan all pose a threat, especially for young or injured birds. But, their natural camouflage helps hide them and sharp talons can be used in a confrontation.
- What are the mating habits of owls?
While most owls (just like most other bird species) start their mating rituals in the spring time, Great Horned Owls begin the process in October and November. This is a time where they are most vocal. The courting ritual usually includes a male owl calling a female to a suitable (in his opinion – she will be the judge of that!) nesting site and may include special courtship flying maneuvers and/or offerings of food. Mating owls spend a great deal of time together. They may rub their bills across each other’s heads and facial discs. This is called preening.Many owl species are monogamous, many mating for life.
- When do baby owls learn how to fly?
Owlets will start their flight training at about 9 weeks old. Roughly 6 weeks after hatching, they will start to wander around on foot and after another 3 weeks or so, they will take flight. Their parents may still continue to feed and care for them for several more months. Some owl species look after their young longer than others. Barn owls, for example, will have left their parents’ home range completely by 14 weeks.
- How long does it take for owlets to grow up?
By 40 days old, many owlets are able to leave the nest. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they up and move away, though. They may still stick around to lean on their parents for a couple more months. By the fall, they will be ready to find their own home and mate.
- What differentiates owls from other birds of prey?
Owls are almost entirely nocturnal. Other birds of prey are not. As a result, an owls eyes are different than ANY other bird species.. both in design and function. Their flight is near silent; again, unlike other birds.
- Are you allowed to keep an owl in Ontario?
You may not own, buy, or trade an owl in Ontario UNLESS you have permits (such as a falconer’s license) and a vast amount of experience with owls. Please also understand that owls are not pets. Birds of prey do NOT make pets.
- What to do when you find an injured owl?
If you find an injured Owl, minimizing stress must be the first priority. Birds are often killed by shock rather than their injuries. If the owl allows you to pick it up, it is almost certainly seriously injured and/or traumatized. Please don’t cause more stress by examining the bird yourself. If you can, cover or gently wrap the owl in a light blanket and place it in a darkened box until you can get it to a vet or a rescue/rehabilitation center such as Hawkeye. Do NOT try and feed the bird. If you have an injured owl please call us at 416.429.5393
Frequently Asked Questions about Owls
- Written by: Dan Frankian