Whether the Great Smoky Mountains, excellent bourbon, or the state’s music industry entice you, Tennessee also offers stunning natural beauty and wildlife that is well worth seeing. This comprises eight different species of owls, both common and uncommon in the state. Put on your binoculars and let’s explore the various varieties, beginning with the rarest owl.
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
The snowy owl is the least common owl observed in Tennessee. This is probably due to the fact that they are a highly migratory species that constantly changes their habitat as they follow their food sources. Additionally, they mate in polar regions, spending the remainder of the year in the warmer climes of North America and Europe.
It’s likely that you’ll see a snowy owl during the winter, so be sure to dress warmly! Grasslands and coastal dunes are among the open spaces that snowy owls favour. They are crepuscular, which means they are active throughout the day, in contrast to other owl species.
Fun tidbit about snowy owls: unlike other Tennessee owls, they are unlikely to be sitting on a tree branch. When hunting, snowy owls like to remain on the ground. This may be due to the special nerve endings in the pads of their feet that enable them to detect vibrations from prey and adjacent rodents.
Northern Saw-Whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)
The unexpected sighting of the northern saw-whet owl could be attributed to its small stature and reputation for shyness. You must go to the eastern region of the state, where there are meadows and open forests, in order to spot one. You might even go in search of them at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
A northern saw-whet owl’s repeated, mechanical-sounding screech can alert you to its presence before you ever spot one. The sounds can be heard during their mating season in the early months of the year on clear evenings, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
Long-Eared Owl (Asio otus)
The long-eared owl is the next owl on our list. It is more likely that you will hear the long-eared owl before you see one because of its powerful hoot, which can be heard up to a mile away. They are well camouflaged in the wooded areas where they usually spend their days thanks to their brown and black feathers. In pursuit of food, these nocturnal predators frequently glide across wide fields and meadows.
Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
In the winter, you could have more chance seeing the short-eared owl around dusk. It’s during this time that they become active hunters, drawn to areas with both fresh and brackish water; you may even spot one close to the Mississippi River!
Because short-eared owls are also ground-nesters, keep your eyes focused on the ground. They are additionally protected in their low-lying homes by their colouring, which acts as a camouflage. This kind of owl is renowned to put on a show, so if you do happen to spot one, you might even see one. The short-eared owl will perform a broken-wing show or even pretend to be dead if predators are in the area!
Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
Barn owls, as its name implies, are found in aged or abandoned buildings, particularly in rural settings. The barn owl is classified by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency as a common but uncommon permanent species of owl. Put another way, unlike snowy owls, barn owls do not migrate or travel through the state; instead, their populations are dropping, making them less common all over the state.
Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio)
The moniker “eastern screech owl” is misleading. Its call resembles a horse’s whinny more than a scream. They are also experts at hiding, particularly in grey hues.
All around the state, eastern screech owls can be found. Though they are more common in second growth forests, they are also visible in suburban and urban settings. It is also known that this non-migratory species of owl builds its nest in a nest box.
Barred Owl (Strix varia)
The barred owl, often known as a hoot owl, can be heard calling day or night. It makes the famous call, “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?” sound like someone saying.
In Tennessee, the barred owl is one of the most often observed owls due to its nocturnal activity. Throughout the Volunteer State, they inhabit wooded areas and engage in fish hunting. You might have better success finding one if you’re hiking close to a lake or creek!
Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
In Tennessee, the great horned owl is the most frequent bird of prey, distinguished by its characteristic ear tufts and distinctive hoot. They could appear in various tones of grey and brown. They inhabit the entire state, displacing other abandoned raptor nests in agricultural, urban, and mixed-woods settings.
Type of Owl When and Where Found
(Bubo scandiacus) Snowy Owl Uncommon winter visitor, sometimes visible during violent migrations
Eagle of the North (Aegolius acadicus) Saw-Whet OwlEastern portion of the state, year-round
Oriental Eagle (Asio otus)An uncommon winter guest, state-wide
Asian Flamingo owl, or Short-Eared Owlstatewide, from winter to early spring
Owl Barn (Tyto alba)Whole year, entire state (endangered species)
Mesoscops asio, or Eastern Screech OwlContinuous, statewide
Owl Barred (Strix varia).Continuous, statewide
(Bubo virginianus) the Great Horned OwlContinuous, statewide
Tennessee Owls: Final Thoughts
The United States is home to nineteen different species of owls. Tennessee is home to eight of them. Thus, if you’re visiting from out of town or a local searching for a close-by adventure, keep an eye and an ear out for any indications of an owl sighting!