Can you tell the difference between a snowy owl and a great grey, or a burrowing owl and a barn owl? Test your knowledge of these magnificent birds with our quiz on all things owl!
All of the 200+ species of owls on planet Earth share a few common traits. They are mostly solitary creatures, and most are active in the shadow of the night rather than the light of the day. They have sharp talons, incredible hearing and eyesight, and feathers that help them silently swoop up to grab their prey.
Yet for all their similarities, various owl species are actually fairly easy to tell apart. The most common owl family, Strigidae, includes around 200 known species. They range from the size of a tiny sparrow to species equipped with a 6-foot wingspan or more and can be found on every continent but Antarctica.
Barn owls, on the other hand, include only around 20 species. They are medium to large on average, have an easy-to-spot facial disc or heart, and don't live most of northern North America, eastern Asia or Saharan Africa.
Think you can identify some of the most common species by name using only a single image? Take our quiz to find out!
Native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, the little owl belongs to the Strigidae owl family. It's very common, with a surprisingly large population. It weighs just around 6 ounces, is about 8 inches long, and comes in shades of streaked or speckled brown and white.
No, those aren't actually ears. The protrusions that give the short-eared owl its name are actually tufts of feathers. Weighing in between 8 ounces and one pound, these small creatures are found on every continent but Antarctica and Australia.
Thanks to its heart-shaped face, it's really difficult to confuse the American barn owl with other bird species. This medium-sized owl has a short, squared off tail, black eyes set in a pale face, and feathers ranging from brown to gray.
The tawny owl is native to Europe and western Asia. It has a stocky build and is highly territorial using its excellent hearing to hone in on rodents and other prey.
Boreal owls measure 8 to 10 inches long and are brown with white spots on their backs. Found in colder regions of North America, Europe, and Asia, they have yellow eyes and a yellow beak and are known for being fairly shy and evasive.
Part of the Strigidae group of true owls, the Eurasian scops owl lives in central Africa, southern Europe, and Asia. Ranging from brown to gray with large ear-like tufts of feathers on its head, this owl weighs a mere 2 to 3 ounces on average.
One of the largest owl species, the Eurasian eagle owl can be as long as 3 feet, with a wingspan of 6 feet or more. Native to Europe and Asia, this owl has prominent ear tufts and is black with a buff-colored underside.
The mottled owl calls Central and South America home. It gets its name from its mottled brown back and head, while its chest is streaked with brown. This owl has no ear tufts on its large round head and has deep black eyes.
The spectacled owl lives in tropical areas of Central and South America. It measures up to 20 inches long and weighs between 2 and 3 pounds. It sports large white eyebrows, a snowy white underside, black head and back, and yellow eyes and beak. Rather than hooting, it's more commonly associated with a knocking or tapping sound.
The greater sooty owl is native to Australia and New Guinea. A medium to large owl species, it has large talons and a piercing cry, with big black eyes set in a sooty, silvery facial disk.
The striped owl measures between 12 and 15 inches long and can weigh a pound or more. It has large ear tufts and short, rounded wings, with a deep black ring around its face.
The snowy owl is mostly white with some black specks - females tend to be more speckled than males. It lives in the Arctic and tends to be more active by day than by night.
The northern hawk owl has a smoke-colored face, a long and banded tail and a brown and cream color scheme. It weighs less than a pound, and unlike most other owls, it is much more active during the day than at night.
The long-eared owl gets its name from its very prominent black ear tufts, which are feathers, not actual ears. Native to Europe, Asia and North America, there are about 50,000 members of this species left on the Earth.
The great grey owl measures 2 to 3 feet long and can weigh as much as 4 pounds, pretty heavy for an owl. It's among the world's largest owl species and has a grey body with white feathers forming a collar or bow tie at its neck.
The crested owl lives in tropical forests in Central and South America. It has prominent white ear tufts and eyebrows, plus chocolatey brown feathers on the rest of its body.
The Middle American screech owl ranks among the smallest members of the screech owl family. No longer than 8 or 9 inches, it has grey or brown feathers, yellow eyes, and a greenish-yellow beak.
Stygian owls primarily live in Central and South America, but have also been seen in the southern U.S. They are recognizable by their large ear tufts, white eyebrows, yellow eyes and black beak.
The ashy-faced owl lives in forests in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It has a heart-shaped, ashy grey face and a cream to brown body. Rather than hooting, this owl makes a variety of sounds, from clicks to wheezes to screams.
Central American pygmy owls generally measure just 6 inches long or less. They don't have ear tufts, and are brown or grey, with bright yellow eyes and a yellow to green beak.
The fulvous owl lives high in the mountains of the cloud forests of Central America. Rather than a hoot, it makes a woo-who, or a'hoo, a'hoo-hoo sound that makes it easy to distinguish from other owl species.
The spotted owl lives in forests in the western part of North America. It measures around a foot and a half and length and weighs slightly more than a pound. This owl is ear-less, with grey and brown feathers speckled with white cross-shaped marks.
Also known as the tiger owl, the great horned owl is native to the Americas. It's mottled brown and white fur provides great camouflage, except for a white patch at the throat. It gets its name from the prominent feathers tufting up like horns from its head.
The Pacific screech owl lives in tropical forests throughout Mexico and Central America. It's nocturnal, feasts on insects and rodents, and has brown feathers and bright yellow eyes.
Burrowing owls, which are native to the Americas, weigh less than half a pound but have surprisingly long legs. These birds nest in burrows, like prairie dogs, and are much more active during the day than they are at night.
The chestnut backed owlet lives in Sri Lanka, and has a characteristic kraw-kraw call. It's white with black or brown streaks on its underside, but has a distinctive chocolate brown back.
The oriental bay owl belongs to the barn owl family. Native to southeast Asia, it has a heart-shaped face and ears - not tufts - that extend up above its eyes.
The northern saw-whet owl is very common but is so good at staying hidden that humans rarely spot it. This small owl measures less than a foot in length and weighs only around 3 ounces on average. It has brown and white feathers, a round white face and yellow eyes.
The tawny fish owl lives in subtropical and temperate regions in Asia. It has prominent ear tufts, but they hang down on the sides of the owl's face rather than standing up. These owls can measure up to 2 feet in length and weigh in at a whopping 5 pounds.
The western screech owl makes its home in North and Central America. It has a small, round head and feathers streaked in shades of brown and grey. Rather than hooting, this owl makes many unusual sounds, including whistles, trills, screeches, and barks.
The cloud forest pygmy owl is surprisingly short and stocky for an owl. It weighs less than 3 pounds and has dark brown feathers and a banded tail. It loves in the more humid climate zones within the Andes Mountains of South America.
Found in tropical forests within Mexico, the balsas screech owl is one of just a few species of screech owls with brown eyes rather than yellow. This small owl varies from grey to brown in color, and has a lighter underside.
Native to Mexico, the Colima pygmy owl has a round head with yellow eyes and a yellow bill. It's brown and black, with a white streaked belly and narrow white eyebrows.
Blakiston's fish owl ranks among the largest known owl species - females can weigh as much as 10 pounds! Native to Japan, China and parts of Russia, this bird has prominent ear tufts and big yellow eyes.
The northern hawk owl gets its name because it behaves more like a hawk than an owl, hunting by day rather than at night. It has a long, taper tail, black lines on either side of its face and yellow eyes and beak.
The Colombian barn owl is a medium to large owl native to South America. Like the American barn owl, it has a large head, a heart-shaped face and surprisingly powerful talons.
Elf owls are native to the southwestern US and Mexico. Measuring less than 5 inches long and weighing in at just a couple of ounces, this tiny bird lives up to its name. Instead of hooting, the elf owl makes its own sounds, including chuckles and yaps.
The flammulated owl is so named because of the flame-like markings. Brown with white stripes and black eyes, this small owl lives in North and Central America.
The whiskered screech owl lives at high elevations in North and Central America. It has mottled coloring, ear tufts, and a yellow bill. Unlike many other owls, it communicates in a series of consecutive boo or toot sounds.
The spotted wood owl lives in Asia, Myanmar and the Philippines. It has a dark brown back, a buff-colored underside and an orange-chestnut face mask with big black eyes.