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Incredible Brown Owls – 22 Species With Photos

There are over 200 species of owls in the world with many of them having brown plumage!

Such color comes from pigments called melanins that give them the ability to blend into the background.

Examples of brown owls include great horned owls, spectacled owls, spotted eagle-owls, Eurasian eagle-owls, Northern boobooks, short-eared owls, long-eared owls, tawny owls, and many others.

Do some of them sound familiar? Let’s jump straight in and see what each of these looks like!

Brown Owls

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl
  • Scientific Name: Strix aluco 
  • Length: 15-18 in 
  • Wingspan: 32-41 in 
  • Weight: 0.8-1.7 lb

Tawny owls are also known as brown owls and can be found in Europe and Asia. 

These stocky raptors with rounded heads, no ear tufts, and dark facial disks come in two colors: one is rufous-brown and the other is grayish-brown. 

Brown owls are dimorphic species where females are longer and heavier than males. 

Thanks to their good vision, keen sense of hearing, and ability to fly silently, these nocturnal animals hunt with ease. Their most common prey are rodents, although they might also feed on birds, rabbits, and insects – they swallow them whole and regurgitate indigestible parts as pellets later. 

Brown owls are very territorial species and when young birds leave the nests, if they can’t find a territory to claim of their own, they will often die of starvation. 

Due to their activity at night and haunting “hooo” calls, people consider them to be an omen of bad luck.


Burrowing Owl

burrowing owl
  • Scientific Name: Athene cunicularia
  • Length: 7-11 in
  • Wingspan: 20-24 in
  • Weight: 5-8 oz

Burrowing owls are small long-legged birds of prey found in North, Central, and South America.

They are the only owl species that nest underground and can be identified by their brown colors mottled with sandy-pale spots on the upperparts, white bellies, and no ear tufts. 

Burrowing owls have big bright eyes that are 100 times more sensitive to light than human eyes.

These owls are common around open areas with no trees, including grasslands, rangelands, agricultural areas, and deserts; unlike most owls, they are active during the day when they hunt insects and small mammals.

They will either perch on a tree and swoop down to catch their next meal or chase it using their long legs across the ground.

Burrowing owls are also one of several birds that are native to Florida.


Eurasian Eagle-owl

eurasian eagle owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo bubo 
  • Length: 22-30 in 
  • Wingspan: 51.5-74 in
  • Weight: 2.6-10.1 lb 

Eurasian eagle-owls are huge and powerful owls found in Europe and Asia, in various habitats ranging from forests to rocky canyons. 

They are also called the Uhu and have very pronounced ear tufts, mottled brownish feathers, and streaked breasts – like most owls and raptors, there are no color differences between the sexes.

Eurasian eagle-owls also have pumpkin-orange eyes that make them one of the most striking owls in the world. 

They are among the largest species of owls and apex predators; they hunt at night using their acute hearing to locate their prey and feed on small mammals, birds, fish, insects, and reptiles. 

To communicate their moods and needs, these large raptors will make clicks, chirps, growls, or beak clacks. Pairs are vocal and will often sing in a duet, exchanging a series of deep and high-pitched hoots.

In the wild, Eurasian eagle-owls will live up to 20 years – in captivity, they can reach 60!


Barn Owl

barn owl
  • Scientific Name: Tyto alba
  • Length: 13-15 in
  • Wingspan: 31-37 in
  • Weight: 9-19 oz

One of the most widely distributed species of owl in the world, barn owls are highly elusive raptors found around open fields, riparian areas, and farms. 

These medium-sized owls have a “ghostly” appearance due to their heart-shaped heads, mottled brown-gray upperparts, and underparts that vary from white to brown. 

Barn owls also have deep dark eyes with a large binocular field of view – the length from the front to the back of their eyes is about 3/4 of that of human eyes (0.68 in vs. 0.96 in).

These owls will often perch on branches, fence posts, or other lookouts and scan their surroundings.

Barn owls do not hoot and make bone-chilling screams instead. They hunt for rodents during the night and roost in nest boxes, caves, tree hollows, and old buildings. 

The species are monogamous and stay together for life – barn owls will have a clutch size of two to eighteen eggs that females incubate while males feed them.

They are quite common in the USA and can be seen in southern California, northern California, east Tennessee, west Washington, etc.


Barred Owl

Perched Barred Owl
  • Scientific Name: Strix varia
  • Length: 16-25 in
  • Wingspan: 38-49 in
  • Weight: 1.3-2.5 lb

Known under several names (northern barred owls, striped owls, or more informally, hoot owls), barred owls are large birds with mottled brown and white plumage.

They can be identified by their yellow beaks, absence of ear tufts, and hoots that sound like “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” and that can be heard almost half a mile away. 

Barred owls also have large and dark brown, almost black eyes. 

They are native to eastern North America and are found mostly around woods and swamps where they hunt for insects, small mammals, crayfish, and crabs.

Barred owls will nest in tree holes or use abandoned nests of other animals, from red-tailed hawks to squirrels. After they establish nests, barred owls become very territorial and aggressive – they will chase away intruders by hooting aggressively or attacking them with their sharp talons!


Great Horned Owl

great horned owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Length: 17-25 in
  • Wingspan: 35-60 in
  • Weight: 2.7-3.5 lb

With a wingspan of almost 5 feet, length of almost 2 feet, and weight of up to 3.5 pounds, great horned owls are among the largest owls in North America. 

These aggressive raptors have gray-brown plumage with a mottled pattern, long earlike tufts, and deep hooting calls. Great horned owls also have enormous and intimidating bright yellow eyes that are only slightly smaller than ours. 

These owls have one of the most diverse diets of all North American raptors and can feed on rabbits, hares, rats, mice, voles, other small mammals, larger mid-sized mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. 

Great horned owls are one of the earliest nesting birds in North America, often laying eggs weeks and months before other raptors.

Typically well-camouflaged, these brown owls are never easy to spot in the wild.


Eurasian Pygmy Owl 

Brown eurasian pygmy owl
  • Scientific Name: Glaucidium passerinum 
  • Length: 6-7.5 in
  • Wingspan: 13.8 in
  • Weight: 1.7-2.7 in

Eurasian pygmy owls are the smallest owl species in Europe. 

Due to their tiny sizes, Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus who first described them in 1758 gave them the scientific name “passerinum” meaning “sparrow-like” or “sparrow-sized”.

Eurasian pygmy owls have reddish-brown plumage with dots, white eyebrows, fine spotting on their crowns, and staring golden eyes that look huge compared to their tiny heads.

The species don’t have the ear tufts often seen on many other owls.

These birds of prey are common in mixed and coniferous forests where they are most active during dusk and dawn (crepuscular animals). 

Eurasian pygmy owls feed on voles, bats, lemmings, mice, small birds, lizards, fish, and insects – they will even store their food and use it during winter.

Read More: Bird species with eyebrows on their heads


Spotted Eagle-owl

Spotted Eagle-owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo africanus
  • Length: 18 in
  • Wingspan: 39-55 in
  • Weight: 1-2 lb

Spotted eagle-owls are the most common owl species in southern Africa, found in different habitats, including open scrubs, grasslands, and forest edges. 

These large raptors have long ear tufts, mesmerizing bright yellow eyes, and dusky brown plumage with underparts that are off-white with brown bars.

Their most common call is a soft booming sound that resembles “who-are-you“. 

Spotted eagle-owls hunt rodents, birds, insects, small mammals, and reptiles, often swallowing their prey whole.

They are monogamous species and mate for life, but if they lose their partners, these owls will find new ones shortly after.


Long-eared Owl

Long-eared owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio otus 
  • Length: 12-16 in
  • Wingspan: 34-40 in
  • Weight: 9-15 oz

Long-eared owls are found in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Also known as northern long-eared owls, lesser horned owls, or cat owls, these medium-sized owls with long ear tufts inhabit brushy thickets, conifer groves, and semi-open areas.

North American long-eared owls have yellow eyes, while their Eurasian counterparts have orange-reddish ones. 

Long-eared owls also have gray-brown bodies with pale bars and heavy streaks on their underparts. 

Nocturnal, secretive, and well-camouflaged, the best way to identify them would be to listen for their calls – males can be extremely vocal and emit hoots that can be heard from over half a mile away.

They are specialized hunters, focusing entirely on small rodents. In Japan, long-eared owls primarily consume Japanese grass voles, gray red-backed voles, and house mice. 

Read more about the other 11 owl species found in Japan here.


Little Owl

Little Owl
  • Scientific Name: Athene noctua
  • Length: 8.7 in
  • Wingspan: 22 in 
  • Weight: 6.3 oz

These small owls are also known as owls of Athena and owls of Minerva and can be found in the open country of Europe, Asia, And Africa. 

Little owls are distinctive birds with greyish-brown plumage that is spotted, streaked, and barred with white; they also have yellow-green eyes and white eyebrows. 

These raptors are common in semi-deserts, woodland fringes, steppes, and farmlands where they hunt for insects and earthworms.

Although mainly nocturnal, little owls can be also spotted during the day, often perching and hunting in their territories. If they spot intruders, they will first emit their harsh calls, fly at them aggressively, or attack with their talons.


Spectacled Owl

Spectacled owl
  • Scientific Name: Pulsatrix perspicillata
  • Length: 16-20.6 in
  • Wingspan: 33 in
  • Weight: 1-2.7 lb 

Spectacled owls are large and unmistakable birds found in Central and South America. 

They are common in humid evergreen forests, often staying hidden in shady spots. 

Spectacled owls are with dark brown bodies and very white to yellow-ochre-colored bellies – they also have light lines around their large bright orange-yellow eyes that look like “spectacles”.

Most vocal on calm, moonlit nights, their call consists of a series of deep hoots that is described as “a sheet of metal being flexed quickly” or “a hammer hitting a hollow tree”.

Active during the night, these fast hunters have diets consisting of mice, bats, possums, and insects. They will swoop down on their prey before quickly returning to their perch.

Want to see how many of these brown owls would look like with blue eyes? Check this article.


Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus 
  • Length: 6.7-8.7 in 
  • Wingspan: 16.5-22.2 in 
  • Weight: 1.9-5.3 oz

These small owls native to North America are often found around coniferous and deciduous forests. 

With a length of 6.7-8.7 inches and a weight of 1.9-5.3 ounces, they are one of the smallest owl species there. 

Northern saw-whet owls are mottled brown birds with white-spotted heads, whitish facial disks, yellow eyes, and lack of ear tufts. What makes their flight feathers unique is the compound called porphyrin – the pigment gives their feathers a neon pink fluorescence when exposed to UV light.

 Northern saw-whet owls were named after their loud and repetitive whistles that are described as “a saw being sharpened on a whetstone”. 

Strictly nocturnal and solitary, the species hunt at night from low perch and use sight and sound to locate their prey. Northern saw-whet owls are carnivores and mostly feed on mice, voles, lemmings, small birds, and some insects.


Japanese Scops-owl

Japanese Scops-owl
Source: Amateras7777, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Otus semitorques
  • Length: 9.8 in
  • Wingspan: 24.8 in
  • Weight: 7 oz

Japanese scops-owls are permanent residents of Japan. They are also found in Russia, Korea, and China, in different forested habitats like forested hillsides, wooded plains, and lowland forests. 

They have brownish-gray plumage, prominent ear tufts, and dark red eyes. 

Japanese scops-owls resemble Ryuku scops-owls and oriental scops-owls but these two have yellow-orange eyes. 

These birds of prey are vocal and will make different barking calls, croaking, and meowing sounds, as well as shrill screeches. 

In Japan, they can be seen on Tobishima island, Miyakejima island, Naritasan Park, Shimanto town, Nakanoshima, Yatsushiro, etc.


Oriental Scops-owl

Oriental scops-owl
  • Scientific Name: Otus sunia
  • Length: 7.5 in
  • Wingspan: 17-20.8 in
  • Weight: 3 oz

Oriental scops-owls are small owls found in eastern and southern Asia. 

These small owls can be recognized by bright yellow eyes, short ear tufts, and grayish-brown or bright rufous plumage. 

Oriental scops-owls inhabit parks, gardens, and forests, ranging from lowlands to foothills – they can be also identified by their repeated “tuk-tok-torok” calls. 

There are 9 subspecies. These nocturnal raptors hunt around dusk and feed on insects, spiders, rodents, and birds.

Oriental scops-owls lay eggs from May to June and have 3-4 white eggs that the female incubates while the male feeds her. 

Fun Fact: Oriental scops-owls have been also spotted twice in the USA.  In both situations, the birds were seen on the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska.


Blakiston’s Fish-owl

Blakiston's fish-owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo blakistoni 
  • Length: 23.6-28.3 in
  • Wingspan: 70.8-74.8 in
  • Weight: 6.5-10 lb

Blakiston’s fish-owls are native to China, Japan, and Russia.

These endangered birds are the largest living owl species weighing up to 10 pounds (females are around 25% larger than males). 

They were named after the English naturalist Thomas Blakiston who was the first to describe them in 1883 in Hokkaido, Japan.

Blakiston’s fish-owls are brown with rounded ear tufts, gray beaks, and orange-yellow eyes. 

They have short and deep “boo-bo-voo” territorial calls; the pairs will often sing in duets with the male calling twice and the female responding with one note. 

They inhabit mature boreal forests near streams with tree holes to nest in and animals to hunt for. As the name suggests, Blakiston’s fish-owls primarily feed on fish, and some crustaceans, birds, and bats – they hunt by wading through shallow river parts or perching on river banks and waiting for movement in the water.

These owls can be differentiated from Eurasian eagle-owls by the lack of black breast streaks and rounder ear tufts.


Short-eared Owl

Short-eared owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio flammeus 
  • Length: 13-17 in
  • Wingspan: 33-43 in
  • Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz

Short-eared owls are found on all continents except Antarctica and Australia, making them one of the most widespread bird species. 

These medium-sized owls are mottled brown above, whitish below, and have very short ear tufts and black beaks. 

Short-eared owls have large yellow eyes that are accentuated by black rings, making them look like they are wearing mascara! 

Although mostly silent, short-eared owls will make a series of “voo-hoo-hoo” calls during the breeding season. 

They are found in the open country, around marshes, grasslands, montane forests, tundras, and savannas. Short-eared owls are migratory birds that feed mostly on voles, rats, bats, mice, squirrels, rabbits, and some birds. 

Fun Fact: Short-eared owls are fearless birds that will often harass falcons, herons, and eagles, just for fun!


Boreal Owl

Boreal owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius funereus
  • Length: 8-11 in
  • Wingspan: 20-24 in
  • Weight: 3-7 oz

Boreal owls are small owls found in Europe, Asia, and North America.

They are common in boreal, highland, and mixed woodlands, where they nest in tree holes, hunt during the night, and roost during the day, staying well-camouflaged in dense vegetation. 

Boreal owls are also known as Tengmalm’s owls (after Swedish naturalist Peter Gustaf Tengmalm) and can be identified by their dark brown upperparts, white spots on backs and rumps, conspicuous facial disks, yellow hooked beaks, and yellow eyes. 

Males make a series of deep “po-po” hoots during the breeding season while females make aggressive “kwahk” calls. 

Similar to other owls, these large-headed raptors feed on voles, lemmings, mice, moles, frogs, birds, bats, and insects. 

Because of their evasive nature, nocturnal activity, and hard-to-access habitats, boreal owls might be hard to spot. They do not have a very long life either, reaching only 7 or 8 years of age.


Eastern Screech Owl

Brown Eastern Screech Owl
Source: NCBioTeacher, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons (cropped)
  • Scientific Name: Megascops asio
  • Length: 6.3-10 in
  • Wingspan: 18-24 in
  • Weight: 4-8 oz

Eastern screech owls are small and stocky owls with big heads, large yellow eyes, often-raised small ear tufts, and horn-colored beaks. 

They are found in eastern parts of North America, in different habitats with trees and near water. 

Eastern screech-owls are easier to hear than to see – they are most active at night when they hunt insects, small mammals, and birds. Their big eyes and sharp vision come in very handy for picking up small movements at night.

Eastern screech-owls come in two colors: mostly gray or mostly reddish-brown – regardless of the overall color, they are patterned with complex bands and spots that help camouflage the birds against tree bark.

These owls are one of the most common birds found in northern Georgia.


Tawny-browed Owl

Tawny-browed Owl
Source: Dario Sanches from São Paulo, Brazil, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Pulsatrix koeniswaldiana 
  • Length: 17 in 
  • Wingspan: /
  • Weight: 11.7-24 oz

Tawny-browed owls are large brown owls found in Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. 

They are common in open woodlands that have Araucaria trees and can be identified by their dark eyes and distinctive semicircles on their faces.  

Male tawny-browed owls can be also recognized by the deep “ut-ut-prupruprr” calls to which females respond with higher-pitched ones. 

Nocturnal species, these owls hunt from a perch, feeding on small mammals, birds, and insects. 

P.S. We know you scrolled past it, but here’s a dare for you: pronounce their scientific name properly on the first try.


Northern Boobook

Northern boobook
Source: M.Nishimura, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Ninox japonica
  • Length: 12.6 in
  • Wingspan: 26.7 in
  • Weight: 5.9-8.8 oz

Northern boobooks are native to eastern and southern countries of Asia and were once considered a subspecies of brown boobooks.

These medium-sized owls with very expressive golden-yellow eyes are dark brown above and white below with long dark streaks on their breasts.

Unlike other owl species, northern boobooks lack ear tufts and facial disks. 

They inhabit different forests, including lowland deciduous forests, coniferous forests, parks, gardens, plantations, and even swamps. Identify them also by their sharp “heeoo,” quiet “kerr,” and cat-like “mew” calls. 

Northern boobooks are carnivores and mainly feed on insects, bats, some lizards, and small birds.


Australian Boobook

Australian boobook
  • Scientific Name: Ninox boobook 
  • Length: 10.5-14 in
  • Wingspan: 28-33.5 in
  • Weight: 5.1-12.7 oz

Australian boobooks are also known as mopokes. 

These brownish owls with dark “glasses” around their eyes are the smallest owls in Australia. 

Australian boobooks have mostly dark-brown plumage with pale spots and grey-green or green-yellow eyes. 

Although mostly nocturnal, Australian boobooks can be sometimes spotted around dusk or dawn, hunting mice, insects, and small birds. 

They inhabit different areas, ranging from forests and open woodlands to scrublands and semidesert areas. 


Cape Eagle-owl

Cape Eagle-owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo capensis
  • Length: 18-24 in 
  • Wingspan: 48 in 
  • Weight: 2-4 lb

Cape eagle-owls are large owls with strong-looking builds found in South Africa where they inhabit rocky terrains, mostly mountains.

They resemble spotted eagle-owls and can be identified by their dark brown plumage, prominent ear tufts, and striking yellowish-orange eyes. 

Cape eagle-owls have a song that consists of a strong “hoot” that is followed by a weaker “bowh-hu“.

Read More: 20 examples of animals that are red and black


Summary

This concludes our list of owls that are brown. 

Examples include barred owls, tawny owls, burrowing owls, great horned owls, and many others. 

Did you know that there were brown owls in Harry Potter? Harry Potter sent Sirius Black, his godfather, a letter by a brown owl while the brown owl was one of many that delivered hate mail to Hermione Granger after the article “Harry Potter’s Secret Heartache” in Witch Weekly.

And if you enjoyed our article, here are our other popular reads on birds: List of owls with huge eyes

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