What types of owls can you see in Europe?
The above question is common, so I thought I’d help by making a list of all the individual owl species that live in Europe.
The temptation to intersperse this entire article with puns is almost overwhelming. I could just wing it and beak-off about these birds all day long, but I really do give a hoot, and soon you would be talon me to stop it. Ok, settle down because that is owl you get. 🙂
Below is a list of all the owl species you can find in Europe.
#1. Short-eared Owl
- Asio flammeus
- Adults typically range from 34 to 43 centimeters long with a wingspan of 85 to 103 centimeters.
- Their coloring is mottled cream and dark brown, with lighter coloring under their wings.
- This species has yellow eyes, a gray beak, and a defined facial disk.
This mid-sized tawny-brown mottled owl is widely distributed across Europe. These birds mostly hunt in the daytime when voles, their favorite meal, are active. Interestingly, they are one of the most common owls you can see during daylight hours!
Short-eared Owls are typically found in open country. Your best chance to spot them in Europe is at dusk or dawn in fields, grasslands, meadows, or even airports.
These owls build their nests on the ground in open areas. If obliged to flee its nest to draw off a threat, the parent will poop on the eggs so that the smell will keep predators away. Short-eared Owls also lure enemies away from their nest by hopping away and pretending to be crippled.
Short-eared Owls are not particularly vocal. But when they do make noises, these birds have a call, oddly enough, that sounds an awful lot like a cat looking for a mate. LISTEN BELOW!
#2. Long-eared Owl
- Asio otus
- Adults typically range from 31 to 40 centimeters long with a wingspan of 86 to 102 centimeters.
- The body is barred shades of brown and cream, with a gray and light brown face.
- This species has bright orange eyes, a black beak, and long ear tufts, which is where it gets its name.
Long-eared Owls are also known as the Cat Owl because of their cat-like facial features. They are secretive and roost in very dense foliage. Combined with their excellent camouflage, these owls are tough to spot in Europe!
As you can see, these owls get their name from the long tufts of feathers on their heads. These ear tufts resemble exclamation points, so Long-eared Owls often seem like they have a surprised look on their face.
Amongst owls, these guys are unique by being quite sociable. They are known to live in clusters and even share roosts!
Since Long-eared Owls can be incredibly hard to see, the best way to locate them is to listen! During the mating season, males are pretty talkative. Their typical call is repeated 10 to 200 times and sounds like a low “hoo,” evenly spaced every few seconds.
#3. Tawny Owl
- Strix aluco
- Adults are typically 38 to 46 centimeters long with a wingspan of 81 to 104 centimeters.
- Grayish-brown upperparts, underparts are whitish streaked with brown, wings and feathers are barred in shades of tawny brown and tipped with white.
- They have a pale olive-yellow beak, huge bluish-black eyes, and a dark-rimmed facial disc.
Tawny owls prefer deciduous and mixed forests with access to water. However, these owls occur in urban areas, particularly with patches of natural forest and wooded habitats! You can even spot them in cemeteries, gardens, and parks.
As nocturnal hunters, Tawny Owls remain silent on perches and glide down on unsuspecting prey. Woodland rodents make up most of their diet, but they also eat young rabbits, birds, frogs, lizards, crustaceans, earthworms, and beetles. Tawny Owls in urban environments prey on birds more frequently since they’re easier to come by than other animals.
Tawny Owls mate for life and have a unique courtship that involves “moving in” together! From July to October, the pair will roost separately during the day. As fall changes to winter, mates will spend more and more time roosting together near their nest site.
Like other owls in Europe, Tawny Owls have a distinctive voice. The males use a hooting call to mark territory and announce themselves to females during mating. Males and females also use a piercing “coo-wik” cry to express aggression and a shorter contact call that sounds like “kewick.”
#4. Little Owl
- Athene noctua
- Adults are around 22 centimeters in length with a wingspan of 56 centimeters.
- Their coloring is mixed white and dark brown, and their tail feathers are dark brown with whitish or pale ochre bars.
- The beak is grayish-green to yellowish-gray, eyes are sulfur-yellow, and the well-defined facial disc is grayish-brown with light mottling.
Little Owls in Europe occupy a wide range of habitats.
They prefer open country with stands of trees and bushes, but they can be found in rocky areas, farmlands, parklands, rivers and creeks, and woodland fringes.
Little Owls wait patiently on perches for their prey and then swoop down on them. However, they also hop around on the ground, pecking in search of food. They feed mainly on insects, especially beetles and grasshoppers, small reptiles, frogs, mammals, and birds.
Little Owls have the most extensive range and population of any owl in Europe! Because of their prevalence, they are considered a species of least concern. However, many individuals are hit by vehicles at night. They also lose large numbers during harsh, snowy winters.
In mating and for communication, these owls give a fluted, nasal call repeated at intervals of several seconds. When they are excited, the call is more explosive and cat-like and sounds like “kweeo.” Both sexes make a series of piercing notes like “kwiff-kwiff-kwiff-kwiff” when disturbed. Listen for these calls during dusk, when Little Owls are most active.
#5. Eurasian Eagle Owl
- Bubo bubo
- Adults can grow to a total length of 51 centimeters with a wingspan of over 2 meters.
- They have distinctive orange eyes and ear tufts with an indistinct facial disc.
- The upper body is tawny and mottled with darker brackish coloring, the wings and tail are barred, and the underparts are buff-colored streaked with darker coloring.
The Eurasian Eagle Owl is one of the largest owls in Europe!
These beautiful owls occupy mountainous and rocky habitats, including coniferous forests, steppes, taiga, and grasslands. They use high, rocky areas for nesting and cover. The Eurasian Eagle Owl is most common in remote areas, but you can occasionally see them in farmlands, parks, and even cities.
This species is a top predator with few natural enemies of its own. They primarily prey on small mammals such as rodents and rabbits and occasionally feed on larger mammals and other bird species.
Eurasian Eagle-Owls are most vocal in the fall and winter. The male’s territorial call is deep and resonant, and the female’s call is slightly higher and more drawn out. I find the Eurasian Eagle Owl’s territorial call the most impressive of all the owls in Europe!
This species also has calls to warn others of danger or if they’re disturbed. These include a faint, laugh-like “OO-OO-oo” and a harsh “kveck-kveck.” In addition, they often assume a defensive posture if threatened, puffing their feathers to appear larger and clicking their bills loudly.
#6. Barn Owl
- Tyto alba
- Adults typically range from 29 to 44 centimeters long with a wingspan of 1 to 1.25 meters.
- The coloring is pale cream to white with dark wings. The belly is sometimes speckled dark down, and the wings are barred when in flight.
- Its eyes are black, and the beak is pale gray. The facial disc is prominent, pale white, and outlined with dark brown.
Barn Owls (aka Church Owl, Ghost Owl, and Monkey-faced Owl) have a sandy-colored heart-shaped face with a dark brown edge. Interestingly, the shape of an owl’s face steers sound to their ears, which helps make them the most efficient hunter-by-sound ever tested. Their hearing is so good that they can quickly locate small animals under dense bush or snow, and they even hunt bats!
Barn Owls are non-migratory and found in Europe year-round.
These nocturnal creatures tend to inhabit abandoned barns (hence the name). Farmers love them because they keep surrounding property fairly rodent-free, protecting other animals from the diseases that mice and rats carry.
They do not “hoot” in the classical fashion of other owls.
Their unique screechy sound is far more reminiscent of a hawk. When showing off for a female, males will sometimes clap their wings together a couple of times while flying.
#7. Eurasian Scops Owl
- Otus scops
- Adults typically range from 19 to 21 centimeters long with a wingspan of 47 to 54 centimeters.
- The body is grayish-brown with black streaks, and the flight feathers and tail are barred dark and cream.
- This species has yellow eyes, a gray beak, and ear tufts.
Eurasian Scops Owls are found in open woodlands, rocky landscapes, cultivated areas, and gardens with mature trees. They aren’t picky about their home! In areas with warm climates, they may be found in the mountains as well.
These tiny owls feed mainly on insects, including grasshoppers, beetles, moths, and cicadas. You might see them around artificial lights feeding on the insects that are attracted to the lights! Occasionally they feed on larger prey, swooping down from perches and killing it with their talons.
Interestingly, young owls leave the nest before they’re ready to fly! Instead, they climb onto nearby branches using their beaks, claws, and wings. Then, about five weeks after they hatch, they begin to fly and hunt on their own.
During the breeding season, listen for duets of male and female Eurasian Scops Owls. The males’ call is a long sequence of flute-like notes and sounds like “kyoot kyoot kyoot kyoot.” The females’ response is similar but higher pitched. Both sexes make a “phew” sound to communicate and a loud, piercing “kweeoh” when alarmed.
#8. Tengmalm’s Owl
- Aegolius funereus
- Adults typically range from 22 to 27 centimeters long with a wingspan of 50 to 62 centimeters.
- The coloring ranges from reddish to gray-brown, and the pattern also varies from white spots to more well-defined bars.
- This species has bright yellow eyes and a circular face with a dark outline.
To find this species in Europe, look for a very tiny owl.
Tengmalm’s Owls can be tricky to identify because they have a variety of colors (from reddish-brown to gray) and patterns. In addition, they can possess either dots or streaks, and sometimes both on the top or bottom of the body.
Tengmalm’s Owls live in boreal forests and can be seen in stands of aspen, poplar, spruce, fir, and birch trees. Because of their remote locations, these owls are relatively uncommon and hard to study and see, and not much is known about their population trends.
These owls like to perch low in coniferous forests and alpine areas and tilt their heads back and forth to scan for prey sounds with their extremely directional hearing. Once they have a target, they swoop in, and dinner is served. Since Tengmalm’s Owls are small, creatures such as voles, bats, frogs, beetles, birds, and baby squirrels are their primary foods.
Their call is a small series of whistled toots that get progressively louder. Males typically only hoot during the breeding season to attract a female.
#9. Eurasian Pygmy Owl
- Glaucidium passerinum
- Adults are 17 to 19 centimeters tall, with a wingspan between 34 and 36 centimeters.
- The back is dusky chocolate to grayish-brown, with an off-white belly and brown mottling on the flanks.
- They have yellow eyes, a yellow beak, and white eyebrows. Black spots with a white ring on the back of the neck resemble false eyes.
This tiny species is the smallest owl in Europe!
Eurasian Pygmy Owls are typically found in coniferous forests near wet or swampy terrain. They feed primarily on small birds and mammals but occasionally hunt Spotted Woodpeckers, which are nearly as large as the owl!
Instead of building their nests, Eurasian Pygmy Owls take over tree cavities left behind by woodpeckers. A mating pair of owls will clean out the nest together before the female lays her eggs. It sounds pretty similar to when humans “nest” before they have a baby!
Interestingly, the mother owl only feeds her young for about a week after her eggs hatch. Then, the male takes over and feeds them for about 4 to 6 weeks more weeks until they leave the nest for good. Eurasian Pygmy Owls generally live 6 to 7 years in the wild.
Since they’re so small, you’re more likely to hear these owls’ calls than to see them. They make a monotonous call that consists of a sequence of clear notes spaced at two-second intervals followed by 3 to 6 staccato notes. It’s thought to sound like “gewh, gewh, gewh, gih, gih, gih.” You’ll typically hear this around dawn and dusk.
#10. Ural Owl
- Strix uralensis
- Adults range in length from 50 to 60 centimeters with a wingspan of 125 to 135 centimeters.
- Their coloring is pale grayish-brown to off-white with a slightly darker gray-brown back and contrasting white markings. Their tails are dark brown and wedge-shaped, and they have light and dark barred flight feathers.
- The prominent facial disk is uniform off-white to pale gray, with dark brown eyes, a yellow beak, and a white throat.
Ural Owls are primarily found in mature open forests with bogs and clearings. They’re adapted for a variety of elevations, from mountainous areas to wooded areas at sea level.
Ural Owls are shy and secretive and are considered rare in developed areas. However, in recent years some populations have become more adapted to human-altered environments.
This species is one of many owls in Europe that mate for life. Ural Owls use various nest sites, including tree cavities and hollow trunks, holes, fissures in cliffs, and abandoned nests from other birds. They will even use artificial nest boxes, which is unusual for owls!
The easiest way to recognize Ural Owls in Europe is by their call.
Their song is deep and rhythmic, thought to sound like “wuhu huwuho-huwuwo,” and is repeated every 10 to 15 seconds. Ural Owls also make various calls to communicate or signal danger, including low hoots and hoarse barks.
#11. Snowy Owl
- Bubo scandiacus
- Adults typically range from 52 to 64 centimeters long with a wingspan of 1.2 to 1.5 meters.
- The coloring is bright white with black bars on its body, head, and wings.
- This species has yellow eyes and a black beak and talons.
Snowy Owls are one of the most stunning animals on the planet! Their white plumage stops almost everyone in their tracks, both birders and non-birders alike! Although mostly white, they have horizontal dark lines all over their bodies except the face and breast. Interestingly, individuals seem to get whiter with age.
Snowy Owls migrate with the changing seasons. During summer, they mate and breed on the northern tundra. But when winter arrives, these birds come south for warmer temperatures.
You never know how far south Snowy Owls will travel.
Most years, Snowy Owls only appear as far down as northern Europe. But some years, there is an “irruption” of Snowy Owls, and many more birds than usual migrate south.
When defending their territory or searching for a mate, males make a loud “hoo, hoo.” This hoot is so loud it can be heard more than 11 kilometers away on the tundra! Females rarely hoot, but other noises (for both sexes) include cackles, shrieks, hissing, and bill snapping.
#12. Northern Hawk Owl
- Surnia ulula
- Adults typically range from 36 to 45 centimeters long with a wingspan of 77 to 89 centimeters.
- The wings and back are dark brown with white bars, and the belly is white with dark bars.
- This species’ face is hawk-like, with a sloped forehead that ends in a point at its pale gray beak.
As the name suggests, Northern Hawk Owls tend to act more like hawks than owls! These owls sit solitary in tall trees and hunt during the day, which are rare traits in owls.
These owls are found in Europe in northern boreal forests.
Northern Hawk Owls commonly feed on voles since they can be eaten whole and are generally plentiful. However, they also will eat baby hares, red squirrels, mice, rats, and lemmings. Smaller songbirds fit into their diet, too!
Males make a rolling, low “hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo” sound repeated 10 to 200 times. Females have similar calls, but it’s shorter and hoarser.
#13. Great Gray Owl
- Strix nebulosa
- Adults typically range from 61 to 84 centimeters long with a wingspan of 1.5 meters.
- Its coloring is pale gray with dark gray bars, which are most visible in flight.
- The yellow eyes and beak are set in a prominent barred facial disc, with white crescents around the eyes.
Great Gray Owls are one of the largest owls in Europe!
If you’re lucky enough to see one, they are stunning raptors. Many people think they look like they are wearing a grey suit with a bowtie around their neck!
These owls cover a lot of territory, but they prefer to live in a forest near a clearing. It’s instrumental in the wintertime, as they need a lot of area for listening to rodents running beneath the snow so they can crash through and catch lunch! Also, they require a lot of food, eating up to 7 rodents every day because they are so big.
Grey Gray Owls NEVER build nests. They just use ones that other big birds made. Talk about being efficient! However, once they claim a used nest, these owls will defend it courageously, even against bears!
Their call is distinctive, bold, and deep, sounding like “whooooo, woo, woo, woo.” They also have a soft double hoot used when providing food to their babies or defending a territory.
Do you need additional help identifying owls in Europe?
Here are a few books and resources you can purchase that will assist! (Links below take you to Amazon)
Which of these owls have you seen in Europe?
Leave a comment below!