You don’t often see owls without looking for them. But you’ve probably heard their hoots and whistles in the night. And while many owls are shades of nondescript brown, the world is full of some surprisingly colorful species.
List of Colorful Owls
Here’s our list of the most colorful owls in the world:
1. Mottled Owl
- Latin name: Strix virgata
- Habitat: Wooded areas in Central America and South America
- Size: Between 11″ and 14″ long
- Diet: Birds, bats, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and insects
- Colorful feature: These owls are marbled with seal brown and a pale golden brown. The darker color appears to almost drip down onto their chests.
These pretty owls have a richer color pattern than many owls in the world. Interestingly enough, they have one of the greatest degrees of sexual dimorphism in the owl world; females are significantly bigger than males.
2. Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
- Latin name: Glaucidium brasilianum
- Habitat: Wooded areas in the south-central U.S., Central America, and South America
- Size: About 6″ long
- Diet: Mammals, insects, lizards, and birds
- Colorful feature: These owls vary somewhat in their color, but their chests often appear striped with white and brown. Often, their tails are banded with light red-brown and darker seal brown.
This cute little owl is somewhat unusual; it typically hunts during the day instead of at night. And if you want to see one, just look for small birds swooping down. These owls are routinely “mobbed” by smaller birds while perching in trees. And it isn’t just one bird species, either. In one case, around 40 birds of 11 different species mobbed a single owl!
3. Eastern Screech Owl
- Latin name: Megascops asio
- Habitat: Most wooded areas in eastern North America
- Size: About 6.5″ to 10″ long
- Diet: Various small animals and invertebrates
- Colorful feature: These little owls come in a grey morph and a rufous morph. The rufous morph, shown in the picture, is a rich red-brown with black and white accents.
These small owls are highly adaptable and often live in residential areas. But you aren’t very likely to see one; they are nocturnal and camouflage very well during the day. Their small size makes it especially easy for them to hide when needed.
4. Snowy Owl
- Latin name: Bubo scandiacus
- Habitat: Mostly tundra regions of the Palearctic and North America
- Size: About 21″ to 28″ long
- Diet: Primarily mammals, especially lemmings
- Colorful feature: The snowy owl is the only species of mostly-white owls. They lose many of their black markings with age, although females tend to retain more of them.
The snowy owl is probably the most famous owl on the list. The French Air Force named a drone after it, and the popular series of Harry Potter books features a snowy owl named Hedwig.
5. Striped Owl
- Latin name: Asio clamator
- Habitat: Many habitat types in South America and Central America
- Size: About 12″ to 15″ long
- Diet: Mostly birds and small mammals
- Colorful feature: This beautiful owl is usually marked with black stripes across its soft cinnamon-colored chest. The face looks outlined in black, too. And unlike many owls, its eyes are cinnamon brown.
This striking owl is fairly elusive. It’s so hard to find that experts aren’t entirely sure of its natural range in the wild. But it’s still fairly easy to hear: its Latin name, “clamator,” translates literally to “shouter.”
6. Madagascar Scops Owl
- Latin name: Otus rutilus
- Habitat: Primarily rainforests and humid areas of eastern Madagascar
- Size: About 8.5″ to 9.5″ long
- Diet: Mostly invertebrates
- Colorful feature: This owl comes in a few different morphs. The one in the photo is the rufous morph, the brightest of them. The body is primarily a rich chestnut red, and the greenish eyes pop out against it.
This interesting-looking owl hails from Madagascar, home of many brightly-colored animals. It is sometimes called the “rainforest owl” because it prefers rainforests and humid areas of bush. Like most owls, it hunts at night. The rainforest foliage is dense enough to hide it during the day as it perches in tree branches.
7. Oriental Bay Owl
- Latin name: Phodilus badius
- Habitat: Forested areas of India and Southeast Asia
- Size: About 9″ to 11.5″
- Diet: Bats, birds, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and large arthropods
- Colorful feature: This striking red owl is one of the brightest on the list. Its pale face and small black spots offer some visual interest to its fiery feathers.
The Oriental bay owl is one of the most distinctive owls on the list. Its pale face is marked with a triangle pointing down toward the beak, and it has two feathery tufts that look a bit like ears. They are very vocal and have a wide variety of calls including screams, hoots, and whistles.
8. Jungle Owlet
- Latin name: Glaucidium radiatum
- Habitat: Wooded areas of the Indian Subcontinent
- Size: About 8″ long
- Diet: Insects, reptiles, small birds, and rodents
- Colorful feature: This stunning, small owl’s barred feathers make it appear to be covered in thin stripes. The warm brown bars are much more defined than those of other barred or striped owls.
These cute owlets have especially striking coloration. The brown and white barring makes it appear penciled, and its round yellowish eyes pop against its neutral-colored feathering. They are often mobbed by various species of smaller jungle birds during the day. There’s a purpose to the mobbing; owls often eat sleeping birds, so the birds attempt to chase owls out of their habitat.
9. Northern Long-Eared Owl
- Latin name: Asio otus
- Habitat: Semi-wooded areas in parts of Eurasia and North America
- Size: About 12″ to 16″ long
- Diet: Mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, various invertebrates, and (occasionally) fish
- Colorful feature: These richly-colored owls often have intricate patterning. They are marked with vertical lines of white, pale brown, and dark brown. There are two prominent, feathery tufts that look like ears. Owls living in more densely forested areas tend to have darker patterning while those in desert areas are usually paler.
This owl is sometimes called the northern long-eared owl, the lesser horned owl, or the cat owl. It has one of the widest distributions of any owl species: if you look at its distribution on a world map, you’ll see a band stretching across much of the Northern Hemisphere!
- Latin name: Ninox novaeseelandiae
- Habitat: Mostly wooded areas of New Zealand and Tasmania
- Size: About 10″ to 11.5″ long
- Diet: Mostly large invertebrates, although it will also eat smaller vertebrates
- Colorful feature: This owl has very bright yellow-green eyes. The body is a rich seal brown that is marked with several soft white patches.
The morepork just might have the funniest-sounding name on the list. The name comes from the owl’s call, which sounds a bit like the bird is saying “morepork.”
11. Rufous-Legged Owl
- Latin name: Strix rufipes
- Habitat: Various habitats in Chile and Argentina
- Size: About 13″ to 15″ long
- Diet: Mostly small mammals
- Colorful feature: These reddish-looking owls are another species whose feathers are covered in very fine bars. Most individuals have deep brown and pale reddish brown bars. They have large eyes and yellowish beaks that look almost hawk-like. Their name comes from their legs that are covered in reddish feathers.
These medium, round-faced owls communicate using a variety of sounds, including hoots, grunts, and cackles. They can sometimes be found in owl cafes, a popular attraction in Japan. Visitors can come in for coffee and pet and hold owls.
12. Philippine Eagle Owl
- Latin name: Bubo philippensis
- Habitat: Large lowland forests in the islands of the Philippines
- Size: About 15.5″ to 19.5″ long
- Diet: Amphibians and rodents
- Colorful feature: This owl is easily one of the most striking on the list. As the name suggests, it looks a lot like an eagle. It has piercing, alert yellow eyes and an eagle-like beak. It is mostly a light reddish brown and the body is marked with small lines of dark brown to black.
This bulky, intricately marked owl is the largest one in the Philippines. It is currently classified as being vulnerable to extinction, largely because its habitat is disappearing due to deforestation. Unfortunately, this owl is often hunted despite local laws prohibiting it.
13. Barred Eagle Owl
- Latin name: Bubo sumatranus
- Habitat: Mostly evergreen forests and areas of dense foliage in the Malay Peninsula and surrounding islands
- Size: About 16″ to 19″ long
- Diet: Many different prey types including relatively large mammals and snakes
- Colorful feature: This unusual-looking owl is another of the barred species on the list. It is mostly dark grey-brown, although it has a whitish belly. It has long, dark eyebrow-like tufts, and its bright yellow beak and legs contrast sharply with its darker body.
This dark, intimidating owl is the subject of local folklore in its native range. According to some Javan mythology, its two-syllable call is thought to be the call of a demon. That myth may have been inspired by some of the owl’s other eerie calls, including high-pitched shrieks, cackles, and groans.
14. Northern Boobook
- Latin name: Ninox japonica
- Habitat: Mostly deciduous forests of Southeastern Asia and Siberia
- Size: Between 11.4″ and 13″ long
- Diet: Primarily invertebrates and small vertebrates
- Colorful feature: This owl species exhibits high-contrast striping on the belly. The belly is mostly white with long, dark brown vertical stripes. The back and tail are the same deep brown, and its intense yellow eyes have large black pupils.
Like other boobooks, this owl’s name comes from its largely two-syllable calls that sound a lot like “boo-book.” It is extremely good at camouflage and is nearly impossible to see during the day. That’s a big part of why experts don’t know much about its population size, even within its known range.
15. Brown Fish Owl
- Latin name: Bubo zeylonensis
- Habitat: Forests and wooded wetlands between Turkey and Southeast Asia
- Size: About 19″ to 24″ long
- Diet: Primarily fish and aquatic crabs
- Colorful feature: These owls are some of the most intensely colored on the list. Their chests are a rich red-brown, while the upperparts are usually a dark seal brown.
Many owls primarily eat land animals, especially rodents. But as the name of the brown fish owl suggests, this one prefers prey that lives in or near water. When hunting, it typically glides over the water. Once it finds suitable prey, it snatches it up with its powerful claws. In some cases, it will take fish from both commercial fisheries and backyard ornamental fish ponds.
16. Eurasian Pygmy Owl
- Latin name: Glaucidium passerinum
- Habitat: Mostly coniferous forests in Siberia and north-central Europe
- Size: About 6″ to 7.5″ long
- Diet: Primarily small birds and small mammals
- Colorful feature: Brighter individuals of this species are primarily reddish brown, with the body marked by whitish spots. The chest is often a mixture of white and brown.
This cute, rounded owl is the smallest of all European owls. Unlike many owl species, it is primarily active during daylight hours. Since it has evolved to be able to hunt relatively large vertebrates, its feet are almost comically big for its size.
17. Philippines Scops Owl
- Latin name: Otus megalotis
- Habitat: Mostly forested areas of the Philippines
- Size: About 9″-11″ long
- Diet: Mostly insects and small mammals
- Colorful feature: Many of these owls are a deep red-brown that resembles mahogany. Their backs are usually seal brown in color.
The species name of this colorful species literally translates to “large ears.” It’s easy to see why; it has very large tufts on the head that closely resemble ears.
18. Northern White-Faced Owl
- Latin name: Ptilopsis leucotis
- Habitat: Forests in the African continent between the Equator and the Sahara Desert
- Size: About 9.5″ to 10″ long
- Diet: Mostly insects, although it also eats smaller vertebrates
- Colorful feature: Though not nearly as white as the snowy owl, this species still has a good bit of white. The whitish body has sets of cascading grey-brown feathers down the sides. Its big cinnamon eyes contrast beautifully with its relatively pale color.
This smallish owl has a very unique method of hiding from predators. If it thinks it is in danger, it flattens the feathers close to the body and narrows its eyes to small slits. Experts generally believe this is something to help it camouflage, although no one is exactly sure.
19. Barred Owl
- Latin name: Strix varia
- Habitat: Forested areas of eastern and western North America
- Size: About 16″ to 25″ long
- Diet: Birds, bats, and small land animals
- Colorful feature: The barred owl actually has somewhat less-defined barring than many other owls on the list. The most colorful individuals have warm chestnut bodies with white barring. Their chests are white with vertical markings of dark brown or black.
These owls are especially skilled night hunters. They can descend on their prey almost silently thanks to their very quiet wing feathers. They are one of the relatively few owls that will hunt fish by wading into shallow water. Though they are native to much of eastern North America, they have recently become an invasive species in parts of western North America as well.
20. Stygian Owl
- Latin name: Asio stygius
- Habitat: Various forested areas in parts of South America and Central America
- Size: About 16″ long
- Diet: Various crustaceans, insects, mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians
- Colorful feature: This dark owl’s near-black upperparts offer a stark contrast with its nearly white belly. And thanks to its dark, earlike tufts, its yellow eyes are especially noticeable.
The Stygian owl has one of the more interesting names on the list. Its name means “related to the River Styx,” the Greek mythological river of the underworld. However, the word can also be used to describe anything that is especially dark.
21. Barking Owl
- Latin name: Ninox connivens
- Habitat: Wooded areas near water in Australia
- Size: About 15″ to 17″ long
- Diet: Various prey types from the ground, trees, water, and the air
- Colorful feature: These owls can either be greyish brown or a rich red-brown in color. They are patterned similarly to other owls on the list, as they have white spots on the back and a white belly with dark vertical streaks.
This unusual owl gets its name from the sound it makes; it has a call that sounds a lot like a barking dog. But like most other types of owls, it has a variety of other calls, including an intense howl that sounds a lot like a human. It is likely the source of a call that aboriginal people ascribed to the “bunyip,” a swamp-dwelling creature that preyed on humans.
22. Western Barn Owl
- Latin name: Tyto alba
- Habitat: Many habitat types of Africa and Eurasia
- Size: About 12″ to 13″ long
- Diet: Mostly small mammals, although diet varies based on exact habitat location
- Colorful feature: These are some of the paler owls on the list. They often have pale chestnut brown upperparts with small spots. Their faces are especially striking, as they are white, heart-shaped, and relatively flat.
This owl often hunts at night. But unlike some owls whose eyes are designed to take in as much light as possible, the western barn owl relies mostly on its hearing to locate prey. Some owls will hunt during the day, although they are frequently mobbed by large numbers of smaller birds.
23. Pallid Scops Owl
- Latin name: Otus brucei
- Habitat: Semi-open areas in parts of Asia and the Middle East
- Size: About 6″ to 7″ long
- Diet: Mostly insects, although it will also eat mammals, lizards, and spiders
- Colorful feature: As you can probably guess from the name, the pallid scops owl is another of the paler birds on the list. Though not quite as colorful as some other owls on the list, it is an unusual tawny beige in color with banded flight feathers. But its eyes may well be its most colorful feature. Rather than being bright yellow, they are a deep, intense amber in color.
This owl has a much gentler-sounding voice than many on the list. It has a cooing call much like that of a dove. Its face can look quite intense, as its “ears” appear to be a continuation of its sharply-angled “eyebrows.”
24. Pearl-Spotted Owlet
- Latin name: Glaucidium perlatum
- Habitat: Woodland, savanna, and Bushveld areas in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Size: About 6.5″ to 8.5″ long
- Diet: Mostly arthropods, although they will also eat smaller vertebrates
- Colorful feature: These descriptively named owls have mostly brown bodies covered in whitish, pearl-like spots. Their faces and bodies are mostly off-white, and their highly-focused eyes are a glowing yellow.
This small owl has a striking and unusual feature; it has a pair of false “eyes” at the back of the head. These are black spots rimmed in white. The pearl-spotted owlet is an enthusiastic hunter. When it becomes excited on the hunt, it will often bob its head or flick its tail feathers.
25. Pharaoh Eagle-Owl
- Latin name: Bubo ascalaphus
- Habitat: Mostly open, arid areas in the Arabian Peninsula and northern Africa
- Size: About 18″ to 20″ long
- Diet: Most types of insects and small animals
- Colorful feature: This unusually-colored owl is predominately tan, though it has intricate marks and barring of near-black and creamy white. Its eyes are an intense amber.
This owl may well be the most majestic on the list. Its mottled coloring makes it a standout, and its feathered legs make it particularly intimidating. It is divided into two subspecies, with the desert subspecies being paler in order to camouflage with the desert sand.
26. Powerful Owl
- Latin name: Ninox strenua
- Habitat: Mostly humid, forested areas in Australia
- Size: About 18″ to 26″ long
- Diet: Mostly arboreal mammals
- Colorful feature: The powerful owl has striking high-contrast coloring. Its upperparts are mostly dark brown marked with white, and its white belly has sparse, dark markings. With its dark face and yellow eyes, it looks a lot like a hawk.
The aptly-named powerful owl is the largest owl in Australia. It also has some of the heaviest, largest claws in the owl world, so it is well-equipped to hunt tree-dwelling marsupials. And while female owls are larger than males in many species, male powerful owls are much larger than females.
27. Short-Eared Owl
- Latin name: Asio flammeus
- Habitat: Open country and grasslands in many parts of North America, Eurasia, and parts of Africa and South America
- Size: About 13″ to 17″ long
- Diet: Primarily rodents, especially voles
- Colorful feature: This owl is colored with rich brown and cream-colored mottling. Its eyes are an especially colorful feature, too. Although they are bright yellow, they are prominently ringed in black, giving the impression that the owl is wearing eyeliner.
This owl is named for its short, triangular ear-like tufts. They are closer to the middle of the head than most species’ ear tufts, so they look a bit like short rabbit ears. However, these tufts are often not visible; the short-eared owl usually only shows them when it adopts a defensive posture.
28. Southern White-Faced Owl
- Latin name: Ptilopsis granti
- Habitat: Various habitat types in the southern half of Africa
- Size: About 8.7″ to 11″ long
- Diet: Usually rats, birds, and various arthropods
- Colorful feature: This is one of the few owls on the list that are white or almost white in color. It has greyish upperparts and white underparts, both of which have thin, vertical dark streaks. Its face is framed with a dark outline, and its red-orange eyes make it incredibly striking.
These owls are somewhat unusual in that they do not build their own nests or nest in an existing tree hollow. Rather, they choose an abandoned nest made by another relatively large bird. They also have an effective way of adapting to colder weather: they can increase their basal metabolic rate by 45% in order to stay warmer.
29. Spectacled Owl
- Latin name: Pulsatrix perspicillata
- Habitat: Tropical rainforests and other forested areas in parts of Mexico, Central America, and South America
- Size: About 16.1″ to 20.6″ long
- Diet: Mostly mammals, although it will eat almost any nocturnal animal
- Colorful feature: These owls are named for a distinctive marking: their eyes are surrounded by whitish lines that look like a pair of glasses! They are also more colorful than many owl species, with seal brown upperparts and tawny chests.
This large owl is a powerful hunter that can sometimes capture prey heavier than it is! It also has much more contrast in its plumage than most other species on the list. And though they appear spectacled as adults, the chicks have their own “spectacles” of sorts. Their plumage is almost entirely white, but the eyes are surrounded by dark rings.
30. Tawny Owl
- Latin name: Strix aluco
- Habitat: Wooded areas in North Africa and Eurasia
- Size: About 15″ to 18″ long
- Diet: Mostly rodents, although owls in urban areas often eat birds
- Colorful feature: Like many species on the list, the tawny owl comes in brown and grey variants. The one in the photo is a brown variant with especially rich red coloring.
In mythology, the tawny owl is commonly connected to death and misfortune. That’s mostly due to its especially eerie call. Because its range is so large, the tawny owl has 11 recognized subspecies. It’s a skilled hunter that relies on both vision and hearing to locate prey. And like some other species, its wings allow for almost-silent flight as it swoops down toward prey.
31. Great Horned Owl
- Latin name: Bubo virginianus
- Habitat: Many different habitat types across the Americas
- Size: About 17″ to 25″ long
- Diet: Mostly rabbits, hares, and rodents
- Colorful feature: The great horned owl is often mottled with white, dark brown, and light brown. The face is especially striking, as the eyes are ringed with different brown shades. Two light eyebrow-like lines make it look as if it’s glaring.
At least in North America, the great horned owl is probably one of the best-known on the list. It is sometimes referred to as the “tiger owl,” as naturalists have called it the “tiger of the air.” Part of its success as a hunter comes from its massive eyes; they are only slightly smaller than human eyes!
32. Great Grey Owl
- Latin name: Strix nebulosa
- Habitat: Mostly dense taiga forests in northern North America and Eurasia
- Size: About 24″ to 33″ long
- Diet: Almost entirely rodents, though the exact prey species depends on location
- Colorful feature: These owls are marked with white and grey-brown or grey. Their yellow eyes are surrounded by thin concentric rings. Since its coloring is so dark, its bright yellow eyes are especially noticeable.
This massive owl is the largest in the world by length. Thanks to its sooty coloration and imposing presence, it is sometimes called the Phantom of the North. It has unusually good hearing for an owl, and it often perches low to the ground to listen for prey. It can even hear rodents tunneling under snow. Once the prey is located by sound, the owl can plunge into the snow to capture it.
33. Mottled Wood Owl
- Latin name: Strix ocellata
- Habitat: Lightly wooded areas in the plains of India
- Size: About 16.1″ to 19″ long
- Diet: Small mammals, especially mice and palm squirrels
- Colorful feature: This cute owl is both barred and mottled in reddish-brown and white. It is somewhat unusual in that its eyes are all black.
Like some other owls on the list, the mottled wood owl has an eerie call that connects to local mythology. In some parts of India, its call is taken to mean “let us go,” meaning that it is summoning the living to the spirit world.
34. Madagascar Red Owl
- Latin name: Tyto soumagnei
- Habitat: Various forested areas of Madagascar
- Size: About 11″ long
- Diet: Small mammals native to Madagascar
- Colorful feature: This owl has some of the richest orange feathering on the list. Its upperparts are almost uniformly orange, although they do have small black markings. Its face looks a bit like that of a barn owl, although it is usually grey or grey-brown.
The Madagascar red owl is one of the most elusive species in the world; it was discovered in the 1800s and remained unseen until researchers rediscovered it in 1993! However, since it looks a lot like a barn owl, it’s possible that it has been seen and misclassified.
35. Greater Sooty Owl
- Latin name: Tyto tenebricosa
- Habitat: Forests in southeastern Australia, parts of New Guinea, and some nearby islands
- Size: About 14.5″ to 17″ long
- Diet: Mostly various types of mammals
- Colorful feature: As the name suggests, the greater sooty owl is approximately soot-colored. Its upperparts are dark grey and its underparts are paler gray. It’s marked with small white spots.
The sooty owl makes a departure from the brownish coloration many owls have. Its tiny pearl-like spots look a little like those on guinea fowl, and its flat, heart-shaped face is reminiscent of a barn owl. On a global level, the species is not considered to be threatened. But in some states in Australia (especially Victoria), it is classified as threatened.
36. Ochre-Bellied Boobook
- Latin name: Ninox ochracea
- Habitat: Subtropical and tropical areas of Sulawesi, Indonesia
- Size: About 9.8″ to 11.5″ long
- Diet: Mostly insects
- Colorful feature: The ochre-bellied boobook is about as close to a yellow owl as you can get! It has a pale yellow-orange underbelly with medium brown upperparts. Its large, round yellow eyes give it an especially intense stare.
This elusive owl species is one of the few on the list that has been classified as “near threatened.” That’s mostly due to rapid habitat loss. These birds have a strange, hoarse cry and a two-note call.
37. Brown Hawk-Owl
- Latin name: Ninox scutulata
- Habitat: Tropical areas of southern Asia
- Size: About 13″ long
- Diet: Mice, small birds, lizards, frogs, and larger insects
- Colorful feature: This hawk-like owl has a white chest with reddish-orange spots. The head and back are a shiny seal brown, and the eyes are large and yellow.
As the name suggests, this elegant owl might be mistaken for a hawk at first glance. Part of that is because it lacks a facial disk, the feature that makes most owls have faces that appear to be flat. It’s a very adaptable owl; it can live in forests but is also quite common in urban and suburban areas. There are nine different subspecies spread out across the brown hawk-owl’s considerable range.
38. Chocolate Boobook
- Latin name: Ninox randi
- Habitat: Forested areas of the Philippines
- Size: Around 12″ long
- Diet: Large insects and various small animals
- Colorful feature: The chocolate boobook looks a lot like the brown hawk-owl, although its back and the spots on its chest are more chocolate colored. Its bright yellow eyes and feet form an intense contrast.
There’s a reason that the chocolate boobook looks like the brown hawk-owl: it was once considered to be a subspecies. However, since it is found only in the Philippines, it has a much smaller range. It is currently considered to be a species that is “near threatened.”
39. Elf Owl
- Latin name: Micrathene whitneyi
- Habitat: Usually chaparral; it migrates to the southwestern U.S. in the spring and summer and winters in Mexico
- Size: About 4.9″ to 5.7″ long
- Diet: Mostly various arthropods
- Colorful feature: These wide-eyed tiny owls have rich brown upperparts marked with small white dots. Their bellies are whitish and often barred.
This tiny, cute owl is the lightest owl in the world. But despite its small size, it can be aggressively territorial. The elf owl has a smart way of escaping predators, though. When it’s handled, it goes limp and pretends to be dead. The idea behind this is that the predator will then relax its grip and the owl can escape.
40. Eastern Grass Owl
- Latin name: Tyto longimembris
- Habitat: Grassland areas in parts of Asia, Australia, New Guinea, and around the western Pacific.
- Size: About 13″ to 17″ long
- Diet: Mostly rats
- Colorful feature: These beautiful owls have somewhat complex patterning. Their chests are whitish with small black spots. Their upperparts are mottled with tan-brown and dark brown. Like other members of their genus, they have white heart-shaped faces.
Not many owls prefer grassland habitats, but the eastern grass owl is right at home. It has an interesting nesting method: it creates tunnels through grassland vegetation. When hunting, it is also able to get through very dense vegetation across the ground. It will usually detect prey while flying and then descend quickly to capture it.
41. Tropical Screech Owl
- Latin name: Megascops choliba
- Habitat: Tropical regions of Central America and South America
- Size: Between 8.3″ and 9.1″ long
- Diet: Small vertebrates and larger arthropods
- Colorful feature: These owls have beautifully patterned breasts that almost look like tree bark. Their heads and upperparts are a rich medium brown with black markings, and their eyes are deep yellow.
You might not think of owls when you imagine animals of the tropics, but the tropical screech owl is very widespread in Central America and South America. It is not in danger of extinction, and some experts believe that it may be one of the few species that benefit from deforestation. Since it prefers semi-open habitats, it isn’t negatively affected by deforestation.
42. Eurasian Eagle-Owl
- Latin name: Bubo bubo
- Habitat: Most habitat types in much of Eurasia
- Size: Up to 30″ long
- Diet: Primarily mammals, although it can adapt to almost any food source
- Colorful feature: This owl is easily one of the most beautiful on the list. It’s a bit like the pharaoh eagle-owl in that its body is mottled in tawny red and dark near-black. Its legs and toes are densely feathered in red, and its eyes are red-orange.
This owl is one that both looks and behaves somewhat like an eagle. It’s one of the few owls that can successfully kill larger prey. Very large kills will sometimes be brought back to the nest to eat. Like many owls, the Eurasian eagle-owl swoops down to capture suitable prey.
43. Northern Saw-Whet Owl
- Latin name: Aegolius acadicus
- Habitat: Various forested areas across North America
- Size: Between 6.7″ and 8.7″ long
- Diet: Primarily small mammals
- Colorful feature: These owls have especially striking, marbled chest markings, as shown on the owl in the picture.
This smallish owl is probably what many of us picture when we imagine an owl. It has a large, rounded head, and the eyes are made to look even larger by feathers fanning outward. The northern saw-whet owl is also one of the smallest owls in North America; to put its size in perspective, it is about the size of a robin.
44. Tawny Fish-Owl
- Latin name: Ketupa flavipes
- Habitat: Forested areas with mountain streams in many parts of Asia
- Size: About 19″ to 24″ long
- Diet: Mostly fish, although they do sometimes hunt smaller land mammals
- Colorful feature: This nice-looking owl is mottled with tawny red-orange and deep brown that is almost black. Their eyes are a bright, intense yellow.
This beautiful owl looks a bit like an eagle-owl at first glance, largely due to its mottled colors. But like most other fish-owls, it has a somewhat bulky body and a short tail. Its orangish coloring and interesting pattern have led many people to believe that it is the best-looking of all fish-owl species.
45. Spotted Wood Owl
- Latin name: Strix seloputo
- Habitat: Forests, swamps, plantations, and parks in the areas surrounding Borneo (but not on Borneo itself)
- Size: About 17″ to 19″ long
- Diet: Mostly mice and rats, although it will sometimes eat insects and birds
- Colorful feature: One of the first things you probably noticed about this owl is its orange face. Its back is coffee-colored with some white markings, and its whitish belly is marked with thin, wavy black lines.
The spotted wood owl is probably one of the most unusual owls on the list. We’ve seen plenty of owls with whitish faces, but this one’s eyes are rimmed in orange. The delicate barring across the belly makes it look almost painted, too. This owl is elusive enough to make exact population counts difficult, but experts believe the spotted wood owl is not close to being in danger of extinction.
46. Black and White Owl
- Latin name: Strix nigrolineata
- Habitat: Forested areas in parts of Central America and northern South America
- Size: About 13.8″ to 15.7″ long
- Diet: Primarily insects
- Colorful feature: This odd-looking owl almost looks like a barred rock chicken. Its underparts are marked with thin black and white bars and its upperparts are almost all black. However, it has a distinctive marking: a black and white striped “collar.”
Nearly every owl we’ve seen has been some degree of brown, so the black and white owl offers a refreshing change. Its barred belly combined with its solid black head and bright beak and feet make it an owl you need to see to believe!
47. Band-Bellied Owl
- Latin name: Pulsatrix melanota
- Habitat: Mostly humid forests in Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru
- Size: About 17″ to 19″ long
- Diet: Primarily larger insects
- Colorful feature: This unusual owl species has a mostly-white belly marked with horizontal chocolate-brown stripes. Its dark head has spectacle-like marks, and it often appears to be wearing a chocolate brown “collar.”
This unique owl has one of the most interesting patterns on the list. It’s somewhat like the black and white owl in that it has horizontal stripes across the belly. However, it has not been extensively studied, and there are still some significant gaps in knowledge regarding it: experts aren’t exactly sure of its diet, and the plumage of juvenile owls has not been described.
48. Ashy-Faced Owl
- Latin name: Tyto glaucops
- Habitat: Shrublands and former forests on the island of Hispaniola
- Size: From 10″ to 17″ long
- Diet: Various small vertebrates
- Colorful feature: This appropriately-named owl has rich brown upperparts, a tawny belly, and an ashy grey face. The face is especially noticeable; it appears framed and heart-shaped like the faces of most barn owls.
The ashy-faced owl is certainly a visual standout. Most owls on the list have white or dark brown faces, and we’ve already seen one with an orange face. But the unique, ash-like color of this one’s face makes it a definite must-see!
49. Northern Hawk-Owl
- Latin name: Surnia ulula
- Habitat: Various habitat types in northern latitudes across the world
- Size: About 14.2″ to 17.6″ long
- Diet: Mostly birds and small mammals
- Colorful feature: These owls have breasts that are barred with white and dark brown. Their upperparts are a beautiful mixture of glossy dark brown and snowy white spots.
Many of the hawk-owls look formidable, but the northern hawk-owl’s fluffy face makes it look a little friendlier than most. When it fluffs all of its feathers, it looks a bit like a chicken! It is an extremely rare owl because it is only active during daylight hours. But even so, it can be a very difficult owl to track. It is distributed sporadically throughout its range and it tends to breed in remote areas.
50. Southern Boobook
- Latin name: Ninox boobook
- Habitat: Various habitat types in Australia, New Guinea, and some surrounding islands
- Size: About 10.5″ to 14″ long
- Diet: Mostly insects and small vertebrates
- Colorful feature: These nice-looking owls have whitish breasts marked with irregular brown vertical lines. Their banded tails, white-spotted backs, and whitish “eyebrows” make them especially eye-catching.
If this owl looks familiar, you may be confusing it with the morepork mentioned earlier. That would be understandable, as even experts grouped the two together as a species until 1999. There are a few different subspecies of the southern boobook, some of which are more reddish-brown than they are chocolate brown. And while it can be tough to go out and see one of them in the wild, there’s a good chance you’ll hear a southern boobook if you happen upon its habitat.
51. Burrowing Owl
- Latin name: Athene cunicularia
- Habitat: Various open areas in parts of North and South America
- Size: About 7.5″ to 11″ long
- Diet: Invertebrates and small vertebrates
- Colorful feature: These little owls are often a glossy dark brown with some white banding and mottling. They have bright yellow eyes and pale eyebrow-like stripes that make them look a bit grumpy.
Thus far, we’ve seen some owls that nest and some that tunnel through vegetation. The burrowing owl is something a bit different! But since owls likely can’t dig their own burrows, the burrowing owl simply takes over burrows dug by other desert animals like prairie dogs.
52. Fraser’s Eagle-Owl
- Latin name: Bubo poensis
- Habitat: African tropical rainforests, clearings, and cardamom plantations
- Size: Between 15.4″ and 17.3″ long
- Diet: Primarily small mammals
- Colorful feature: As you can see in the picture, Fraser’s eagle-owl is truly magnificent in flight. Its wing feathers have eye-catching red-brown and dark brown banding.
This classic-looking owl is another example of what many people likely picture when they imagine an owl. And like many people’s idea of an owl, this one is nocturnal. Like many species, they make many different sounds in addition to the stereotypical “hoot.” In particular, males make a stuttering call that many people say sounds a lot like an electric generator.
53. White-Fronted Scops Owl
- Latin name: Otus sagittatus
- Habitat: Lowland and foothill forests in Asia
- Size: About 10.6″ to 11.5″ long
- Diet: Mostly insects, especially moths
- Colorful feature: These intriguing owls look a lot different from many on the list. They have tawny yellowish bellies marked with tiny spots. There is a pale triangle in the middle of the face, with sides of the face being dark chocolate brown.
Though these owls are adorable, they are very scarce. They are currently classified as being vulnerable to extinction. Their population numbers are still declining rapidly, as their forest habitats are destroyed. Since they’re distributed sporadically and there are very few to begin with, they have not been well-studied.
54. Guatemalan Pygmy Owl
- Latin name: Glaucidium cobanense
- Habitat: Mountain forests in Guatemala, Honduras, and southern Mexico
- Size: About 6.3″ to 8″ long
- Diet: Mostly insects and smaller arthropods
- Colorful feature: This little reddish owl has some of the most vibrant red plumage on the list. Its belly has snow-white markings. Both the tail and the flight feathers are banded with reddish brown and darker brown.
The Guatemalan pygmy owl is one of the cutest owls out there. But according to some scientists, it shouldn’t be classified as a distinct species. The International Ornithologists’ Union considers it to be its own species, but the American Ornithological Society calls it a subspecies of the northern pygmy owl.
55. Buff-Fronted Owl
- Latin name: Aegolius harrisii
- Habitat: Various habitat types in most of South America
- Size: About 7.5″ to 8.3″ long
- Diet: Insects and various small vertebrates
- Colorful feature: This especially stunning owl has a yellowish-buff belly. But its most interesting feature is probably the two black lines crossing the eyes. They make it look almost like the owl is wearing a bandit mask!
This small owl is widespread in South America, but it’s somewhat unusual in that all of its populations are separate. Despite that separation, you can find it in every country in South America except Suriname and French Guiana.
Nature’s Most Colorful Owls
Now you have a few faces to put with the calls you hear in the night. But keep your eyes open during the day; you just might see an owl or two resting in the trees!