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Got owls? Photos & facts of our local owls to help you ID them

By Gary Bogue
Tuesday, June 30th, 2009 at 7:23 am in Owls.

Barn Owl by Brian Murphy, Walnut Creek, Calif.

There are 8 species of local owls that you might encounter in your San Francisco Bay Area backyard. Four of these owl species are pictured here. There are links below for you to click on and take a look at the other four owl species on the Internet. Have fun! /Gary

Barn Owl: Probably our most common local owl in the S.F. Bay Area. These owls have white breasts and underwings and if you look up you may think you are looking at a white or snowy owl. Nope. Just a barn owl. Sometimes at night you will hear a loud hissing-screeching sound in the sky above you. Classic barn owl. They nest in old buildings, tree hollows and in human-made nest boxes. They eat LOTS of gophers, rats and mice. VERY beneficial — especially if they live in your backyard. More at

Great horned owl by Lindsay Wildlife Museum, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Great horned owl: A very large, tough owl that eats a wide range of prey species from gophers, rats and mice, to rabbits, small cats and even skunks (owls have little or no sense of smell). Nests in hollow trees or in old stick nests from hawks. Our only local owl that gives a hoot (hoohoohoo hoohoo). Commonly found throughout the Bay Area. More at

Young screech owls.

Western Screech owl: This tiny, 9-inch owl look like a miniature great horned owl. Eats mice, insects and small birds. Nests in hollow trees, bird houses, etc. They are common throughout the Bay Area, but so small and quiet you rarely notice them. More at

Burrowing owls by Marisa Castaldini, Brentwood, Calif.
burrowing owls2

Burrowing owl: This little long-legged owl nests in small colonies in deserted ground squirrel burrows. They also dig their own. Twenty-five years ago they were pretty common, with colonies at Buchanan Field (airport) in Concord and assorted vacant lots around the East Bay. Now they are rarely seen outside the Delta area, mainly because of habitat loss when we humans build out houses in the open spaces where they live and hunt. More at

Saw-whet owl: This tiny 8-inch tall owl preys on small rodents, bats and insects. They nest in tree cavities, old woodpecker holes and sometimes nest boxes (when they find them). These owls can be found in the Monterey pine forest at the south end of San Pablo Reservoir near Orinda, Calif. See and read more at

Spotted owl: Stands about 18 inches tall. Feeds on mice, rabbits, squirrels. Nests in abandoned hawk and crow nests and tree hollows. There are fewer and fewer of these birds because of loss of habitat (old growth forests). They are occasionally seen on Mount Diablo. You can see and read more about there here:

Long-eared owl: This 15-inch tall owl gets its name from the two sets of ear-tuft feathers on its head. Dines on mice and voles, insects and lizards and small snakes. Nests in abandoned nests of other birds and tree hollows. See and read more here

Short-eared owl: Same size as the long-eared owl but without the ear tufts. Hunts in fields and marsh areas, mostly for voles and songbirds. See and read more

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8 Responses to “Got owls? Photos & facts of our local owls to help you ID them”

  1. MsMonica Says:

    Gary, I’m thrilled to report owling action on Homestead Ave, WC! What I thought to be a rat nibbling loudly on bunches of rattage turns out to be a western screech owl, and actually after days (or nights as reality would have it) of viewing, there are two, a pair nibbling in our garden, and watching the plethora of nests w/baby birds we have hatching in “our park.” Fabulous, makes me think of your book, A Raccoon In My Backyard! This is the most excitement since an eagle circled overhead as my husband and neighbor erected his hand-carved 20′ totem so many years ago. Wow—what a rush! blue skies, Msmonica

  2. Gary Bogue Says:

    Msmonica: Isn’t it great when we all give a HOOT? I love owls. /Gary

  3. Edith Bauer Says:

    Hi Gary,

    I really like your common sense, compassion and understanding of animals. I have a question about
    a mourning dove. We found a baby mourning dove in
    our backyard. He/she seems injured, it cannot right
    its neck and is unable to fly. I am not sure how to
    help this little guy. Could you please advise me.

    Thank you,
    Edith Bauer

  4. Gary Bogue Says:

    Give the Lindsay Wildlife Museum a call at 925-935-1978 and ask to speak to the wildlife hospital. Explain the situation and see what they recommend. They may want you to bring it to them. Address is 1931 First Ave., Walnut Creek. Please let me know how it works out. If you want to discuss it, my office number is 925-977-8582. /Gary

  5. Nancy Wenninger Says:

    Hi, Gary:
    I live in Walnut Creek and enjoy frequent visits by Western screech owls and love to hear their peaceful calls in the darkness. I have even seen one bathing in my backyard fountain. Every year around this time I get a special treat: the adults bring the kids to forage in my yard. I can’t see them, but I hear the adults “barking” and the kids calling from different locations with their rapid descending “chuckling” sounds. So much fun!

  6. Parrot Nanny Says:

    There is a very well written and wonderful book by Stacey O’Brien called Wesley The Owl. An excellent read that is very informational. She shared her life with a barn owl for almost 20 years. It suggests that Barn Owls (and perhaps other creatures) can communicate with mental telepathy. I work with parrots and can testify that they know what I am thinking and what I am preparing to do. Amazing.

  7. Patrice Anderson Says:

    Please tell us why so many dead owls are along the 680 highway every month between Benicia and Fairfield near the west end of Grizzly Island. Five rust-colored owls were dead along Highway 680 between October 1, and October 14 in 2009. This has been going on for years. How long will it be before all these owls are gone?

    Thank you for your news column and website!

  8. Leslie Anido Says:

    I teach in the Campbell, CA area and would like to get an owl house placed in one of our tall redwood trees in the back of the school yard. Is there any organization that donates houses appropriate for one of the local owl species?

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